Kindred is a play about domestic violence, and I went along with niggling feelings of trepidation and scepticism. ‘This is going to be yet another sexed-up play about violence against women,’ I thought. ‘It surely going to just add fuel to the fire of the crass, victim-blaming, armchair-expert opinions that so often permeate discussions around domestic violence.’ I went in to review this piece wholly prepared to chew it up and spit it out, denouncing it as inaccurate and disempowering. I am so happy to report that I was completely wrong.
Kindred is an affecting and, most importantly, realistic depiction of domestic violence which refuses to let the audience get away with asking the horrendous question “why doesn’t she just leave?” and instead prods us to explore the sickening realities of power and manipulation that are central to any violent relationship.
Written by Rachael Blackwood, and directed by Lisa Treloar (both recent graduates, along with most of the cast, of the Howard Fine Acting Studio), Kindred tells the story of Princess and Knight’s relationship, which appears fine at the beginning but which slowly and insidiously turns into one of violence and manipulation. The story is told in the form of a fairy tale that is read aloud by five female characters – June, Faun, Minnie, Selina and Diana – who each depict different parts of the Princess: her inner voices, or aspects of her personality. The women stay onstage the whole time, watching and listening from the bed, sometimes cowering in corners or clinging to one another. It is a great concept that serves to give the victim a sense of power, autonomy and full humanity despite her inhumane treatment.
We hear from each of the women, who in their own time deliver a monologue to Knight, telling him what they really think of him, treating him as Princess wishes she could but would never dare. While most of the writing is solid and naturalistic, the monologues had an abstract and poetic quality that reminded me of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. In a play that demanded so much of the audience, this lyrical style often left me searching for the core meaning in amongst the poetics. This was a shame, as all of the women had something important to contribute to the narrative, and I often felt as though I almost had a full picture of them, but that I just missed it, almost like trying to remember a dream. This intermittent dip into the abstract was a little clunky, and could have been more evocative by exploring other elements of non-naturalistic theatre styles.
The performances were all strong. Ben Ridgwell was the stand-out as the abusive Knight, straddling the line between sickening abuser and charismatic charmer with intelligence and poise. Princess was complex and interesting, never delving into the one-dimensional victim; she was particularly engrossing in the play’s final scenes. This was helped by the supporting characters, who all played versions of her, and all of whom were very strong. The distinction between Faun and June could have been a little clearer, as unlike Diana, Minnie and Selina, they didn’t have an easily graspable shtick, which would have anchored their personalities more, and given them a bit more direction.
Set design and lighting was effective and realistic, evoking the claustrophobia and loneliness of an abusive relationship. Director Lisa Treloar has done a great job with Blackwell’s script and Kindred is a refreshing and necessary piece of theatre that I will not forget in a hurry.