Revelation, the new play by poet, playwright and (lest we forget) Nicky Wire's brother Patrick Jones, focuses on domestic abuse. Always a hot topic, but with Revelation there's one difference; the abused protagonist is a man.
I can - I hope - be forgiven for being suspicious. As anyone who's spent more than five minutes in the feminist blogosphere will know, the 'But it happens to men too' argument is a favourite of misogynist trolls seeking to derail feminist discussions of rape and domestic violence and divorce the topic from its social context. Said context being one in which traditional gender norms still hold a lot of power, and in which sexuality is viewed primarily as commodity, something to be used to sell product and control others. Balanced perspectives are rare. So, for all that I've enjoyed Patrick's earlier plays, let's say I'm wary. Luckily, I needn't have worried.
Unlike, say, Everything Must Go, there's no elaborate set or spectacle tonight. Just a starkly-lit stage with a double bed, two chairs, a telescope in one corner, and an assortment of dead leaves and debris scattered around the perimeter. And, of course, the voices of the two characters.
The story, told in flashback form, centres around homeless Steve and Dionne (possibly a charity worker who's been helping him out, though this isn't clearly specified) who develops a crush on him and takes him in. Suddenly, things are better. He has a home, a partner he loves and, soon enough, a young son. All seems right with Steve's world - for a while. However, Dionne obviously has a troubled past, and her demons start to surface in unpredictable outburst, accusations and violence. Steve's torn between leaving her and possibly losing contact with his son, or sticking out the abuse for the sake of the child.
There are strong performances by both actors - Nathan Sussex as Steve is a mixture of vulnerability and frustration, an ordinary guy lost in a situation society never taught him to expect, while Stacey Daley (Dionne) portrays a steely façade gradually breaking down to reveal a frightened, abused child lashing out at the nearest target. For the most part, the script eschews the sloganeering polemics that characterize Patrick's earlier work - and it works. While there are clumsy moments, the naturalistic dialogue illustrates how a seemingly normal family situation can escalate into abuse, and the attacks, when they come, are jolting. The minimal setting focuses our attention entirely on the interaction of the two leads, while the JDB-penned soundtrack (understated, but with a current of throbbing menace running through it) escalates the tension to unbearable levels.
What really strikes a chord with me, though, is that Revelation doesn't use the reality of domestic violence towards men to deny the existence of patriarchy. No; it's explicitly situated in a world where women like Dionne are routinely seen as victims (which they often are), but men are expected to be emotionless, invulnerable and 'tough'. As a result, the cycle of abuse continues, and Steve has nobody to turn to, nobody to take him seriously. This kind of helplessness is the experience of many people in abusive relationships, regardless of gender, and the play's message is clear; the current situation damages us all.