Reviewed – 14th February 2019
“a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue”
It is rare for theatre to leave the audience silently stunned in the final blackout. However, Bottled will succeed in rendering you utterly speechless, trying and failing to hold back tears. For a debut playwright and performed by such a youthful cast, it’s an awesome achievement.
Katy, simultaneously played by Alice Vilanculo, Isabel Stone and Hayley Wareham, introduces herself to us on her fifteenth birthday. Over the course of the next hour we follow her as she gets a boyfriend, studies for her GCSEs and tries to get on with her mum’s new boyfriend, Brian. Brian seems alright at first, apart from his baking of strawberry flavoured cakes (Katy’s least favourite) he actually seems like a cool guy, offering to pay for Katy’s Spanish holiday with her mates and taking her fishing. But gradually her mum stops seeing her friends, Aunty Carol doesn’t come round anymore, and mum has quit her job because Brian can look after the both of them on his own. It doesn’t take long before Katy’s mum is isolated and Katy starts to notice purple patterns around her mother’s eye.
Exploring domestic abuse from the perspective of a teenager, and someone whose life is secondarily affected by manipulation, violence and fear is deeply emotive. Katy’s innocence and naivety means it just hurts harder. Each of the three actors portray their own emphasis and interpretation but form a hive mind on stage so that each is a distinct part of Katy.
Hayley Wareham’s script is cleverly balanced, introducing Katy as a bright, witty and ambitious young girl who’s aware of the absurdities of modern life. You immediately warm to her through humour but ultimately empathise with sincerity as you see how quickly circumstances can change. It’s a stellar debut, thoroughly researched with keen dialogue. The piece sensitively and subtly explores the current failings of the welfare system, in which refuge centres, hostels and temporary housing make it painfully difficult to sustain a life free from abuse, let alone thrive with one.
Chris White’s direction is necessarily stylised having multiple actors playing the same character. This has the effect of actually elevating the horror of the situation through echoes, amplification and repetition of sound and movement (Jess Tucker Boyd). Conversely, the set and lighting is sparse, with no more than a handful of props used with surprising utility coming from helium balloons.
Bottled makes for a truly affecting piece filled with emotional urgency that certainly proves it’s not about big budgets when it comes to impactful theatre.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Slav Kirichok
Part of VAULT Festival 2019