For Happy Even After, Human Story Theatre supplied an opening night unlike others I’ve been to, filling the Old Fire Station Crisis Café with the stalls of A2Dominion, Reducing the Risk, Samaritans, and BH&O, in-keeping with the subject of Gaye Poole’s latest play: domestic abuse. In the auditorium is a clean and simple set, which it has to be in order for Human Story Theatre to play the libraries and village halls on the Happy Even After tour; a big part of their ethos is about bringing theatre to people reluctant to enter a conventional performance space. A white round piece sits before us; well-suited to an in-the-round offering, it goes on to serve various purposes – a seat, a kitchen worktop, and it has a hollow middle in which to store props heightening its practicality.
On a more symbolic level, the circular form might be said to denote the lives of married couple Ash (Paul Tonkin) and Naomi (Imogen Wilde). He mistreats her, she picks herself up, he might be nice for a spell, before going back to his usual ways. Wilde gives the best performance of the night – not to say there are any that are weak – presenting a very likeable character you wish better for. Her depiction of the character’s cheek and charm feels so genuine you can’t help but feel for her when she’s at her lowest.
Opposite Tonkin and Wilde are Jilly Bond and Ian Gain as Kate and Peter – an older married couple. In their relationship, it is Kate who is the aggressor, her violence fuelled by her husband’s Parkinson’s disease. Poole is thoughtful in her inclusion of violence. We see it early on for Ash and Naomi, in a sudden and well-choreographed and executed move, but it is a while before we witness Kate physically harm Peter. What this does is give us a dramatic moment early and one late on, keeping the audience’s focus. And as each of these incidents concerns a different couple, we don’t see the same thing twice.
This Anna Tolputt-directed piece presents two different forms of domestic abuse with simplicity, truthfulness and the odd funny moment. With Thames Valley Police estimating that they attend a domestic incident on average every 11 minutes, Human Story continue to stage issue-based plays that are completely relevant, and they don’t just scratch the surface.