Rattlesnake is a sharp and sometimes uncomfortable look at how coercive behaviour develops in a relationship, and the way that that it can destroy lives and make the victim question their own sanity. The Live Theatre in Newcastle is a perfect venue for this intimate pared down two handed piece.
More visible than it has ever been – think Helen in the Archers, or Rachel in Girl on a Train – coercive behaviour is subtle, sinister and destructive. It has been with us for ever. Gaslight, the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane, gave rise to the term ‘gaslighting.’ Bill Sykes in Oliver, controls Nancy completely, subjecting her to sustained violence, until he finally murders her.
Rattlesnake has been developed by Open Clasp theatre company from the stories of real local women and uses their documented experiences to build a chilling narrative. The two hander moves slickly through the stages of this pattern of behaviour, first explaining how this kind of relationship begins – usually ‘love bombing’ by the perpetrator, then creating dependence, next jealousy and possessiveness, and finally total control. Eventually this escalates into threats both verbal and physical, which are sometime acted upon.
Christina Berriman-Dawson plays Suzy with total conviction. We understand her fear and her bewilderment until, as happens with so many women, it is the love for her children which gives her the strength to break free, or at least try to from this intolerable situation. Eilidh Talman plays the other characters, James first wife, and James himself and she convincingly conveys the intimidation and the manipulation which is the modus operandi of this damaged man.
Both actors are equally strong and the dialogue is complemented by evocative sound and the opening song ‘When I’m gone’ with its clapping rhythm (it was used in Pitch Perfect) shows them both to be strong singers too. The show is short, just an hour straight through, but its quite intense and makes an impact. It’s on tour at the moment. Catch it if you can.
In a converted Quayside building which harks back to the days of Newcastle thriving industrial past, Live Theatre is a much loved Newcastle venue which champions new work, and does not shy away from tackling social issues of the day. It launched the careers of writer Lee Hall and actor Robson Green to name but a few. It has a lovely bar and restaurant and us a real part of the Newcastle community, a great venue in a great city.
Photos Keith Pattison