Photo credit: Slav Kirichok

Guest reviewer: Kirsty Herrington

Katy is a fifteen-year-old girl with her whole life ahead of her. She’s doing well at school (even if she can’t quite see the point of it), she has plenty of friends and she’s dating a boy she believes to be the love of her life. But then her mum’s boyfriend Brian moves in, they get engaged and Katy soon discovers that life isn’t as perfect as she first thought.

The debut play from writer and actor Hayley Wareham, bottled. is an unsettling and impactful play about domestic violence, uniquely told from the perspective of a teenage girl. Under the neat direction of Chris White, three actresses – Wareham, Alice Vilanculo and Isabel Stone – all take on the character of Katy, each bringing a cheeky, likeable quality to the young girl. It’s the initial innocent nature of Katy which makes the resulting revelations more devastating as she casually reveals that her mum has stopped seeing her friends, that she had an accident in the bathroom and now has a black eye… The three actresses also voice the other characters in the play, distinguishing between them well, and capturing Brian’s ever-changing and chilling moods. They all impress individually but it’s when they all come together to speak as once that it has the most impact.

The actors are of course aided of course by clever writing, and Wareham captures the voice of a teenager brilliantly. While it may be her first play, bottled. is well-written, perfectly contrasting light, witty bursts of innovative humour (“you can cut cheese with that nose, and I’m not talking about Brie”), with chilling and shocking moments that make the whole thing all the more impactful. There may be one or two lines which fall flat but on the whole it’s a razor-sharp debut.

Produced in association with Flux Theatre and performed in support of Women’s Aid, the play shines a light on the cuts to women’s refuges in the UK, not to mention the attitude of some police officers (one shakes Brian’s hand when he’s called to investigate allegations of violence), and it highlights the devastating impact this all has on victims of domestic abuse. bottled. is by no means an easy watch and there are trigger warnings in place, however it is a sensitive, essential and important play. If anything disappoints, it’s the noise of the neighbouring show and passing trains which threaten to detract from the action, but thankfully the production is far too gripping for anyone to be distracted for long.

Photo credit: Slav Kirichok

My verdict? Witty, chilling and heartbreaking, bottled. is an engaging and powerful watch. You’ll just never want to eat strawberry cake or listen to the Human League again.

Rating: 4.5*

bottled runs at the VAULT Festival until 17 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.

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