Review: The Black Eye Club by Phil Charles
“He’s one of the girls!” shouts Zoe (Rebecca Pryle) innocuously – except in this world of misconceptions and boundaries, he (Christopher Sherwood) legally isn’t. Himself a victim of domestic abuse, Dave turns up late at night at a refuge only to be told by its night concierge (Cathryn Sherman) that the rooms are strictly women-only. Dave is a gay man, and thus terribly fascinating to Zoe who cannot fathom with her experience of violence how a man could be abused in a relationship.
She decides to sneak him into her room, oblivious in her own precarious existence to the fact that getting caught would mean being thrown out. This tension expectedly forms much of the conflict of the narrative, but what is interesting is that both Zoe and Dave, despite their differing worldviews and socioeconomic backgrounds, are able to form some semblance of camaraderie over the course of a night.
A two-way relationship seems to be merely symbiotic at first glance. Yet, escape hinges on something that needs to transcend them merely helping each other – this is where agency drives the speed of the play. Zoe needs to leave her abusive husband (affectionately called ‘tit face’) and Dave, who has already left his partner, needs evidence to bail himself out of the situation financially.
Aiding this is the text’s gratuitous comedy. While clear and unembellished, the play’s language pushes the heavier workloads of meaning-making to wit, making for characters who do not have to work hard to build empathy. Even the eponymous Black Eye Club Dave hopes to form is worked in as a one-liner joke.
Comedy, however, is also the downfall for the narrative. Very often, confrontation is hemmed in tonally – the difficulties expressed in the situation tend not to develop fully and are less affecting than they are on paper. The narrative folds on itself almost perfectly, making it difficult for us to appreciate the gravity of the actual violence behind the topic of conversation.
The three-year-old Bread and Roses Theatre looks like it is stretching for more, especially with this play on the topic of domestic male-on-male violence, and while it may not have been successful in going beyond a comedic representation, is certainly staging conversations no one else is having. We’ll be sure to see what comes next.
Photo Credit: Lexi Clare Photography
By Edward Eng for Bakchormeeboy
Performance attended 3/11/17
The Black Eye Club plays from 1st to 18th November at The Bread and Roses Theatre, London. Tickets available here