Review: bottled. VAULT Theatre

Meet 15-year-old Katy. Her parents planned to call her Ellie but then she came out looking like a miniature sumo ringer and Ellie didn’t really fit. Katy is smart, she does well in school and since Bradley Lewis made her an origami penguin, everything’s turning up roses. Her parents have allowed Katy to go to Spain with her friends for the summer holidays and her dad has even agreed to pay for her flights. Well, her stepdad Brian that is. The stepdad who has started leaving purple bruises around her mum’s eye.

Produced in association with Flux Theatre, Hayley Wareham’s debut play bottled. runs like a scratched record. Everything seems to be in tune when suddenly you hit a snag and the reality of the situation becomes jarringly clear. Bottled. is the shockingly honest depiction of the impact of domestic abuse told through the eyes of an immature and innocent teenager. And within that point of view lies the play’s urgency. The audience follows a young woman determined to live her own story but who inadvertently gets forced into a cycle of abuse, homelessness and desperation. Through her eyes we watch both the abused and the abuser, giving the cycle of violence an even more shocking impact.

Katy is portrayed by three actresses Alice Vilanculo, Isabel Stone and Wareham herself, who also embody all the other characters often changing their posture and voice at a moment’s notice. It is when Vilanculo, Stone and Wareham speak in unison that the whole effect of this trio becomes palpable. All three build off each other’s energy creating a very nuanced and hard-hitting performance. Even more affecting are the moments when only one is speaking and the other two actresses become Katy’s varying states of emotion. In the scene where Katy talks about her dad’s death, the Katy talking seems very calm and collected, reflecting from a distance while the other two actresses are fighting back tears showing Katy’s inner pain and trauma.

Director Chris White runs a tight ship, managing to hone a narrative which is painful and humorous in equal measure. Apart from a few stumbles with their lines, all actresses keep the momentum moving, letting the story unfold like an old hardbound book rather than pushing for a climax.

Movement and lighting play a huge role in this production. Movement director Jess Tucker Boyd creates a levelled performance giving a natural flow to the actresses’ words, a calm to moments which require depth and a forward drive when the audience needs to understand.

Lighting Designer Marty Langthorne is beautifully restrained. When the stage lights fall dark and the performance space is lit only by a row of fairy lights, it creates an air of warmth and hope in the midst of devastation. 

bottled. is performed in support of Women’s Aid the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Wareham provides us with a visual call to action focusing on the importance of refuges and giving a voice to the women and their families who are fleeing their homes and struggle to rebuild their lives.

bottled. is playing at the Vault Theatre until 17 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.