Piece of Silk, performed at the Hope Theatre in Islington, is a realistic portrayal about the influence of a father’s shame. This sensitive and honest piece of writing by Jennie Buckman is a new take on domestic abuse. The play focuses on the perpetual shame and patterns that domestic violence can cause.
Mrs P’s husband of Indian descent has passed away. He leaves behind two teenage girls, Shaz and Dunya. He has an older son Sami who lives abroad and has never met his father’s English side of the family before. Sami makes the journey to help look after his sisters and teach them to be decent, like his father always wanted them to be.
The interesting thing about Piece of Silk is that you feel sympathy towards Sami. His ideals have clearly been embedded into him from an early age and he doesn’t see what he is doing as wrong. It also raises questions about how women are seen as fragile and, if used, tainted forever, yet the same doesn’t apply for men.
Directed by Tania Azevedo, there are a lot of elements to this play. It opens with a vlog projection, which is streamed ingeniously on see-through fabric down one side of the stage. This cleverly doubles up as an extra playing space and gives the idea of outside spaces. Azevedo uses the small space to the maximum, with dividing moveable screens and white lighted outlines of the rooms. However, there are chorogreaphed movement exchanges in between some scene changes that feel superfluous to the plot; I assume they are used to add variance, which as this play supports itself in interest is unnecessary.
The meat of the play comes from the family conflict. Sami (the older brother) played by Devesh Patel delivers his role with sincerity and understanding. He especially shines delivering a wonderful monologue about keeping his father’s letters in a box and the unknown residual effect that has had on him. You can sympathise with Sami even though he isolates his sisters and turns to drastic action to enforce decency on the family.
Shaz, played by Tanya Vital, has a challenging role of being a clever, strong-willed girl with a fantastic imagination. Her vlogs are funny and typically teenaged. Vital plays Shaz with bravery and assertiveness and doesn’t make the obvious choice to play it over-emotional, but keeps strong. Her fantastical stories are what keep her younger sister afloat. Dunya (Shaz’s younger sister, played by Samantha Shellie) has learning difficulties and uses drums as a retreat. Shellie manages to portray the role delicately and shows Dunya’s anxiety and strain from the isolation that affects her significantly.
The narrative force behind Piece of Silk is Billy, a close friend to Shaz played by Jack Bence. Bence opens the play with confidence as he clicks scenes to stop and start. His London charm and tenderness make his monologues expressive and they are a pleasure to watch. Bence’s genuineness and ability to react to high-stake situations raise the play to another level. One of the highlights of the piece is Billy’s skilful spoken word performance at an open mic night. Bence’s character uses spoken word throughout the piece and this element gives further insight into the family, and offers hints at supressed tensions that run deep in Sami’s character.
Ruby/Mrs P is played adeptly by Heather Coombs. Coombs has to switch from character to character and you accept each new character as she commits 100% to each new persona. Her strongest role is Ruby. She is being abused at home and shares her stories about her abusive husband to Shaz. Coombs’s heart-breaking performance is done with profundity and understanding.
Piece of Silk draws its narrative from the stories of female survivors of domestic violence. It shows there is a circle of abuse in which the victims blame themselves, and this pattern of shame is evident in this thoughtful play.
Piece of Silk is playing at the Hope Theatre until 2 July. For more information and tickets see the Hope Theatre website.