Note: This review is from the 2018 Fringe

Never Vera Blue deals with an important subject matter: domestic abuse. Our protagonist, who poignantly isn’t ever named, introduces us to her life. Slices of interconnecting storylines gradually build up a picture. She’s married, has two young children and arrives home one day to find that she can’t get the key into the lock on the front door. She’s locked out of her own home. The anecdote serves as a way into a story of a life in which very little is within her control.

We’re introduced to her collection of plants. The aptly named Never Never is the first in her collection and she speaks with pride of the plant flourishing and growing. She adds others to her collection. And in a dark portent of the unfolding drama, we learn that one of the most prized assets of her plants is the ability to soak up sound.

This is a smart script from Alexandra Wood. The company, Futures Theatre, worked in partnership with the Gaia Centre in Lambeth, London, with a group of women who were all survivors of domestic abuse. Wood was commissioned to work with the group throughout the year and write a play inspired by their stories.

Translating such personal experiences into a story that’s recognisable and accessible is a challenge. Wood has obviously absorbed an enormous amount from her experiences as the script is packed with carefully observed details. Our protagonist flinches away from using any verbs in casual conversation that might denote physical violence, for example. But Wood is also careful to leave the events depicted, sort of open to interpretation – maybe her husband needed to change the lock – to give us a glimpse into the confusion inspired by the most cunning perpetrators. “It’s hard to know things, isn’t it? Have you ever found that, it’s really hard to know,” asks our protagonist. The ambiguity is brilliant.

Laura Dos Santos turns in an impressive performance. She’s on stage for seventy minutes without a break. She is wholly convincing as a woman too cowed by her husband’s controlling behaviour to consider that life could be different – and that she might deserve a happier home for herself and her children. It’s a heart-breaking story – the sort of story all too familiar to victims of domestic violence – and Dos Santos doesn’t flinch from the detail that observers may struggle to understand.

The play is neatly directed by Caroline Bryant but might benefit from more distinction between scenes. The majority of the play takes place on a rug which conveys the limitations of our protagonist’s world but doesn’t give Dos Santos much to work with to assist her in her storytelling. The audience is left with a strong sense of claustrophobia but the lack of variety in the staging arguably reduces the impact of the final reveal.

That aside, this is a powerful play, produced in celebration of all those who have lived through an abusive relationship and survived to tell the tale. For a topic that continues to be swept under the carpet, it’s tremendous to see it dramatised in this pointed, starkly observed, new production.