Rattle Snake review at Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – ‘powerful but underdeveloped’

Eilidh Talman and Christina Berriman Dawson in Rattle Snake. Photo: Keith Pattison Eilidh Talman and Christina Berriman Dawson in Rattle Snake. Photo: Keith Pattison
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Based on the experiences of women who have suffered coercive controlling domestic abuse, Rattle Snake was originally developed as a training session for Durham Police after this practice was made a criminal offence in 2015. The piece has since been developed for theatre audiences, resulting in a powerful if unremittingly bleak drama.

The play centres on Suzy and Jen who recount the harrowing details of their relationship with the abusive James. Breathlessly performed by Christina Berriman Dawson, Suzy explains how he stripped her of her dignity, confidence and identity during a 12-year period. Eilidh Talman’s jittery Jen interjects regularly with her own experiences of James’ passive aggression, obsessive jealousy and drunken threats.

Ceaselessly pacing the confines of Anna Reid’s claustrophobic cube-shaped set, the woman are like tormented caged animals, unable to escape James’ malevolent grip.

Rattle Snake is at its best when the pair are frantically recounting the shocking lengths they took to avoid their ex-boyfriend’s wrath: Suzy walking to the park at 6am every morning with her newborn and toddler; Jen cleaning the house and showering multiple times a day.

Writer Catrina McHugh does an effective job of giving an insight into how coercive behaviour can destroy lives. But she fails to answer satisfactorily why Suzy and Jen fall for James in the first place. His transformation from attentive charmer to tormenter is too abrupt to be convincing.

The play would also benefit from developing Suzy and Jen’s characters beyond their victimhood. This way, we would not only understand their pain but care about them too.

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Powerful but underdeveloped domestic abuse drama