Review: She Is A Place Called Home, VAULT Festival

She Is A Place Called Home is an exploration of two sisters dealing with the fact that their dad is taking a second wife (in addition to their mother, the first). This is something that their mum did not sign up for when taking her marriage vows. Jordan Noel and Nicole Acquah play growing women who are polar opposites but linked together by blood. 

Their father is a domestic abuser – manipulative  in a way not commonly portrayed in the media, for he financially controls the women in his life. He’s a man who cuts off all their household funds when one daughter decides not to apply for medicine, yet also a man who makes dolphin shaped pancakes every birthday. An honest portrayal of an abuser, this man lulls his children into a sense of security by painting star constellations on the ceiling one minute, and leaving a family holiday to bankrupt a business rival the next. In a childhood full of intense contradictions, the one constant is the girls’ love for each other.

Noel’s character is recovering from an eating disorder and has just finished the final year of her degree. She hides notes about what she’s eaten in a notebook under the sofa cushion, and exercises obsessively whilst speaking with the audience. Noel draws upon the pace that is needed to uphold an eating disorder. You need to move fast and keep talking to distract from your disordered patterns of living and to keep your secret. It seems that the ultimate fear of someone suffering from an eating disorder is being discovered, or worse, forced to eat. 

One of the most heartbreaking moments of the play focuses on Noel struggling to eat an apple whilst Acquah grabs her hair and grapples with her.  This play packs a lot of punch in its one hour run time. Bigamy, eating disorders, suicide and domestic abuse all weave together throughout our story. Acquah is the stronger sister, the one who holds it all together and ultimately through being the face of the family, pays the ultimate price. 

Esohe Uwadiae’s writing is moving, lyrical at points and yet deeply realistic. The pettiness of the arguments between the sisters and their moments of candour get right to the heart of sisterhood at its peak. Infatuation, anger and indignation are accompanied by tenderness, longing and adoration. 

A Nigerian wedding dance forms the chapters of the story. Each dance, like the numbers of the page, indicates a new part of our tale and unveils new emotions. The opening dance is an introduction to the sisters’ personalities, one rehearsal of the number reveals the relapse into an eating disorder, and a lack of dance at the end represents loss. This decision through the combination of writing and direction is a reminder of the centrality of these girls’ relationship to everything within their lives. 

Despite being performed in a dark, damp cavern, this play alights a warmth inside anyone who has loved like a sister or who has felt for someone beyond themselves. Moving, relevant and thoroughly tragic, Uwadiae’s writing tackles the darkest of moments with a deftness that cannot be taught.

She Is A Place Called Home is playing the VAULT Festival until 8 March. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.