I so want to be very flippant, casual and easy going when I write here, but at the same time, as anyone who knows me will testify, I can get just a little serious and way too deep in my thoughts. So “Violence and Son” left me in a real quandary. Because I am not sure I can be so causal about something that left such an impact on my thoughts, both good and bad, and left the girl sitting next to me crying as we stood to applaud the fantastic performance of the four actors.
But at the same time, I want to talk about the things that made this a great piece of theatre; the humour, the theatre’s layout, the endless Doctor Who references, as well as explain the pain of Sloane Square tube station being closed for the day meaning I had to walk through the high street on a Saturday afternoon trying not to imagine burning the whole place down.
So, maybe a review in two halves is needed. Let’s start with the serious…
I’ve been told recently that I have a pre-disposition to put myself into situations that I find uncomfortable. Apparently by generating my own discomfort I can fulfil my need to feel something. Yes I know, deep shit hey!
That theory though might explain why, after a week of work that involved the usual wide range of social problems for which it’s never easy to find a solution, I thought it would be a good idea to go and watch a play called “Violence And Son”; I think the title alone should make it fairly obvious where this was going to lead.
I’ve seen some “weird shit” (I’m loving that phrase, courtesy of Tracey, see my review of The Angry Brigade for the reason) but as the first half of this drew to a close, I was feeling more uncomfortable than normal in the small confines of the upstairs of the Royal Court theatre.
Firstly there was the context of the play, the alpha male who is happy with the fact he is nicknamed “Vile” short for violence, “you know, how when you are young you get a nickname based on what you do, like Pat the Butcher” explains the girlfriend, apparently equally relaxed that he is more handy with his fists than his mind.
Then there is the way the first scene of the play is so sweet, innocent and funny; Liam, the 17 year old son in the title, and his friend Jen, returning to his home after a Doctor Who convention, Liam dressed as the Matt Smith era doctor, Jen as Amy Pond as she first appeared in Doctor Who, a kissagram police woman. It is all very geeky with references to the series flying from their mouths. At the same time, there is a tension between them as the audience know full well Liam fancies her, but there is some innocence as to whether the feeling is mutual.
Even when the father and his girlfriend Suze are introduced, the humour and innocence remain, as the pair tease Liam about Jen; “a girl don’t wear a skirt that is nothing more than a belt just for a friend” the father explains to his son with a knowing wink. It’s all looking rather cute and sweet and nothing like the title suggests. Except well, we all know it’s not going to last.
As we hit the interval, “hit” being the word you need to place some emphasise on there, the violence of the title freshly played out right in front of us, there is a momentarily stunned silence in the room as the lights go out. As they come back, there is the normal chatter as the audience discuss it and get up to relieve the tension, in both body and mind.
While this is happening, I’m thinking “why do I do this to myself?” The absolute discomfort of the subject matter, the familiarity of scenes I have seen played out in real life, “He doesn’t mean to do it, it’s not his fault” being a phrase that seems so apt. And however unfair it may be, I feel a disgust at both myself and my fellow audience members for taken such a serious subject and treating it as just a piece of entertainment to pass a few hours of our middle class lives. This feeling really isn’t helped as I watch around me, a trio return from the bar with a bottle of wine to share, something so middle class and casual in this, something for a moment I want to scream out “how can you just drink that, surely you need to take in what you have just watched first?”
The second half is even more harrowing; suddenly a sledge hammer is causally laid against the wall. Where did that come from, I’m sure it wasn’t there earlier, and worse still, I’m now fixated by it, it clearly has a purpose. And again it’s reminding me of something else I have seen for real recently, not a sledge hammer but a garden fork, but the same thoughts were in my mind then.
The play drives on, the humour still there to break up the tension, but less so now as we wait for what we all know is going to happen at some point. Except it doesn’t, the title doesn’t play out that obviously.
Because this play suddenly turns in a way no one watching could possibly have been expecting, and it is that turn that I found so harrowing, driving home a concept that is at the heart of so much I feel strongly about; how our actions affect children, how children learn from their parents, their guardians, their protectors; that what we do later in life is so strongly influenced by what happens to us and around us when we are children. And I’m thinking that most of us in the audience had very good childhoods, so this is just a play, just two and a half hours of entertainment before we wander home for maybe another glass of wine, thankful we don’t have to deal with dreadful people like “Vile” for real, we just won’t come across them in our safe little lives.
As the play ends, you do feel the tension in the theatre, that final twist so unexpected. I think we could have handled the violence we were waiting for, we may have been upset but not as upset as we were with what we were given instead. This was worse, much much worse.
As we start to walk out I am talking to the girl beside me, the one crying, and I ask “has this really affected you that much?” She nods with a smile, and I do have some hope that she will be thinking about that when she is home, that maybe for some in the audience it isn’t just about a few hours entertainment to please our middle class needs, but also it will make us think a little more, understand a little more about the lives of others outside our happy norms, and maybe, just maybe, will change an attitude or two.
Too hopeful? I don’t know, but as I said, sometimes I think too much, maybe I should just think of this as two and a half hours of stunning theatre and leave it at that, it would probably be so much more healthy for me. Whichever, I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to be stunned, shocked, moved;
Told you it was heavy shit didn’t I. I do apologise, and promise I will be more light-hearted when I write the second half of this later.