Southwark Playhouse – until 29 October 2022
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Jenna Fincken’s unsettling and unforgettable play about coercive control chronicles a relationship from meeting to the first act of violence.
When Louise meets Ryan at Jess’s engagement party, it does not start well. She is suspicious and he is disgustingly nice. Their first date ends disastrously, but soon they are moving in together in a new town, far from her friends and family. Louise is happy and does not notice the red flags that keep popping up. As Ryan isolates her increasingly from the world, (no phone, no access to the joint account…) her friends and family try to intervene, but Louise is defensive and protective of Ryan. After exerting control on every aspect of Louise’s life, Ryan’s assertion that he cannot survive without her and threats of self-harm if she leaves stop Louise from breaking away. Nobody who sees this play will ever say “She could have just left him.”
Fincken has written Louise as an intelligent, independent young woman, a teacher seeking deputy headship positions. When she realises her situation Louise says that she is trained to spot this in her work – but living it is a different matter. We only hear Ryan’s voice (Matthew Durkan) and so his casual and vindictive acts of cruelty – poor Sharky! – are described and excused after his apologies until, about 18 months in, he is finally violent to Louise.
Fincken’s writing and performance are phenomenal. She jumps between characters seamlessly -Whiny Briony is a hoot! Fincken keeps Louise sharp and funny between her moments of self-doubt and terror as she struggles to maintain Ryan’s exacting standards. Georgia Green’s direction and Miranda Keeble’s set design is perfectly judged to allow the story telling to be animated and dynamic. Fincken’s physicality, Simeon Miller’s lighting and projection and Tingying Dong’s sound design all work together to create a chaotic and increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere as the relationship inexorably travels towards violence.
Funny, disturbing and uncomfortable – Louise asks us “Did you see?” – Ruckus is a brilliant production.