Stage review: You Are Here as a Witness Theater in the Mill, Bradford Yvette Huddleston 4/5
Bradford-based Common Wealth make powerful, urgent theater productions that boldly tackle challenging contemporary issues with the aim of effecting social change – and their latest show You Are Here as a Witness, sensitively directed by Evie Manning, is about as urgent and powerful as anything. they have created.
Ten years ago, the company staged Our Glass House, a ground-breaking, searingly raw and heartfelt piece about domestic violence, created in collaboration with survivors. It toured the UK in 2012, performed in residential settings and went on to win that year’s Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, later contributing to a change in domestic abuse laws in Scotland.
You Are Here as a Witness, commissioned by and made in partnership with The Anah Project, a domestic abuse service for Black and Asian women based in Bradford, returns to the themes of Our Glass House which sadly are still as resonant today as they were a decade ago. The narrative, based on extensive interviews conducted with survivors, follows the stories of three people affected by domestic violence – Nicola (Leah Francis) seven months pregnant and newly married, Anah (Saher Shah) recently arrived from Pakistan and 10-year-old Kai (Remy Manning) who has grown up with a violent and controlling father.
Nicola’s partner has shrunk her world down to the size of her kitchen, she is afraid to leave the house and is constantly watchful about her behavior in case she upsets him; Anah who speaks only Urdu is being deliberately isolated by her aggressive husband and his family; While Kai has become withdrawn and has had to take on a protective role towards his mother. None of this is sugar-coated and it is not easy viewing, but we the audience are here to act as witnesses.
Projected onto one wall of the in-the-round performance space is a film that runs continuously throughout the hour-long production of street after street of houses – conveying the powerful message that these scenes could be played out in any one of these ordinary- looking homes, right now. After the show, the audience is invited to stay for a period of reflection and discussion about the issues raised, including how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, providing a safe space for debate and hopefully the starting point for a, long overdue, change in attitudes and approach. Shows are being attended by representatives of relevant agencies such as the police and social services. You Are Here as a Witness is visceral, vital, thought-provoking theater – another production of which Common Wealth can be, rightly, very proud.