“I so wanted to please him.” Thirty-something Leah is fun, lively and ambitious. She meets her future husband in the high-end tailor where she works and the rom-com spins off from there. But lurking behind her smiling facade is something darker. In this powerful one-woman play, written by Abi Zakarian, we watch the unravelling of one woman’s life in a performance that is moving and terrifyingly relatable.
Zakarian’s concentrated writing, Sullivan’s impassioned performance and some skilful direction from Tom O’Brien are combined in a show that will leave you speechless.
This is a story about the expectations women place upon themselves and each other, the ideals of marriage and motherhood they are supposed to live up to and the difficult realities that lie under such sparkling promises. A large double bed – the marriage bed – initially forms the set’s focal point, but this is deconstructed over the course of the show as pieces are moved away and transformed into other things. At the start, this feels a little gratuitous and distracting, although it becomes more effective as the show goes on and makes for a forceful final image.
In some ways Leah functions as a kind of every-woman; we are supposed to recognise real-life women we know within her. Yet Nancy Sullivan plays her with fantastic commitment and attention to detail. Her every mannerism and tick convey the peculiarities of a rounded and believable character with a whole world behind her, from the china doll smile plastered on her face to her high-pitched giggles. Many of these ticks are initially much more irritating than endearing, but the character deepens with its material. It is this specificity that gives the show its power: as the play darkens and we get closer to the violence that is at the heart of all that has gone wrong, the wider issues are never allowed to overshadow the women that are affected. Sexual violence is not used as a trope for its own sake, and Leah is never transformed into some impersonal, political signifier. The play is so tragically convincing because its events are grounded in an individual’s experiences, and her own voicing of them.
This show is driven by an extremely important message, but this does not carry it. Zakarian’s concentrated writing, Sullivan’s impassioned performance and some skilful direction from Tom O’Brien are combined in a show that will leave you speechless. The hopeful note on which it ends is a beautiful refusal of victimhood, an empowering declaration of survival.