Common Wealth is a political site-specific theatre company that collaborates with artists, musicians, performers, illustrators and carpenters to create events that are part-theatre, part-gig and part-exhibition. We’ve made three shows so far; Our Glass House that opens on the 18th of April is the most ambitious yet.
The idea for Our Glass House came to me when an ambulance was called for my neighbour and her three year old son in the middle of the day, which revealed the years of abuse that she had faced just on the other side of our wall. It got me thinking how a house can hold stories and that to make a site-specific show where audience go behind closed doors would be a really powerful experience. I brought this to the table at Common Wealth HQ and Rhiannon spoke of how she witnessed domestic violence as a child and experienced it as an adult. Her insight and passion for addressing this issue sealed the deal.
We knew it was a heavy subject and it was daunting- it’s surprising how taboo the issue is even today. We began making the show by interviewing women and men who have experienced domestic violence, we asked them about their homes- we didn’t want to know about the violence- to us that wasn’t important- we were more interested in exploring the reasons people stay. As we talked with people about their experiences, what became clear was how incredible these survivors were and how much courage it takes to leave. We felt this was the story we wanted to tell- the process between staying and leaving. In this way, a potentially ‘dark’ subject becomes hopeful, and doesn’t reduce people to victims.
We also knew that we would approach this show in the same way we’ve made all our previous shows, by making it as much about the audience’s journey as it is about the characters. The audience will explore the house freely, choosing which direction they take as action happens simultaneously- we felt this was important to show the complexities of the subject- that there isn’t One Story of domestic violence. We’re realising this show is a feast- we’ve worked with artists, illustrators, puppeteers, magicians and musicians- so there is a lot going on, lots of detail and inventiveness.
We’re well into rehearsals now and are very grateful for our fantastic actors, it’s a devised show so there is a sense of making it up as we go along and there are surprises and discoveries every day. This is always a terrifying and exhilarating thing, what has fuelled us along in the making of this show is that whenever we reach a stumbling block or a ‘why are we doing this’ moment we listen to a testimony from someone we’ve interviewed and our drive is restored. The show has become scarily relevant as the budget and the cuts have taken effect, the number of women being murdered each week as a result of domestic violence has dramatically increased in parallel to the amount of services being cut. The tories are shamelessly attacking and dismantling the ways that women and men can leave or end abusive relationships- legal aid, refuges and services have all taken a massive hit. The issue is incredibly relevant and we’ve reflected this by setting the show now in 2012, it’s very modern, we didn’t want to hide behind the beautiful, romantic aesthetic of the past, we wanted to make something contemporary and recognisable.
We’re hoping that people come to the show and recognise people from their own lives or even themselves in the characters, often people in abusive relationships don’t call it ‘domestic violence,’ we’re hoping this show raises awareness, gets people talking and shakes off some of the taboo. It’s been a ridiculous challenge and we feel proud of ourselves just for not being intimidated by it, but we’ve been honest and stuck to our guns and we think we might just have pulled it off!
You can buy tickets for Our Glass House from The Tobacco Factory Theatre by calling 0117 9020344 or booking online: http://tobaccofactorytheatre.com/shows/detail/our_glass_house/
Performances run from 18th-29th April 2012.