EFR - Reviews of M House

M House

Wed 24th – Fri 26th August 2011

reviews

Jade Symons

at 21:57 on 25th Aug 2011

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It was clear from the play’s very serious description that “Coliseum Arts Centre” were not about to perform a comedy. And indeed, despite moments of very black humour, the audience were not shielded in the slightest from the disturbing, upsetting and thought-provoking themes of sexual abuse and domestic violence, which pervaded their performance of “M House”.

I was a little dubious about the use of English subtitles (the play was delivered entirely in Moldovan - the native language of the performers), but they turned out to be very effective, creating an unsettling contrast between the stark descriptions projected across the backdrop, and the emotional speeches fiercely delivered by the actors.

One was struck again and again by the chilling stories being told, often in a very matter-of-fact, offhand way - and by the knowledge that they were all completely true. The actors were involved in gathering the first-hand accounts of domestic abuse, which make up the script. It was clear to see that they were all deeply emotionally involved with the play, which brought a very realistic, gritty edge to the performance.

There was, it must be said, an occasional lull in energy from the four actors, but it was never long before a burst of angry, defiant speech kick-started proceedings again. There were some very powerful visual moments in the play, which I don’t want to give away by describing them. Suffice to say, they were unusual, occurred unexpectedly, and prevented the piece from becoming merely a set of monologues.

Apart from these sections, the action was cleverly understated, so as not to detract from the subtitles at the back of the stage. Interesting too were the small snippets of rhythmic poetry which occasionally surfaced, providing a kind of leitmotif for the play to revolve around. Also worth noting is that half of all the proceeds are donated to the Scottish Women’s Aid Charity.

Bold, provocative and unique, “M House” takes the stories of oppressed women and voices them, in an innovative and stylish way.

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Pat Massey

at 15:10 on 26th Aug 2011

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It's a show about domestic abuse helping to fund Scottish Women's Aid... it won a Gender Equality Award... and I'm still going to criticise it. I'll need a shower after this one.

Not to be cavalier, but Britain is broken such that you can predict the kind of stories on offer here. Ordinarily I would have given such a show a miss: but! This was in Romanian (with English subtitles). This would describe the desperate lot of wives and daughters in a totally different society. Surely the cultural differences would revitalize what I assumed to be so familiar?

Well, the answer is 'broadly yes'. We hear how oxen become part of the abusive husband's cabal of weapons; we hear how vodka can heal a broken eye; most of all, we learn the importance of shame. The majority of accounts delivered here describe the necessity of endurance. A abused wife is told to endure by her aunt, and tells the same to her sexually abused child: to hear how this way of thinking becomes familial heritage is sobering indeed. A more visceral reaction is elicited by the stories of broken heels on midnight flits, and even teachers bashing heads.

Yet the cast does not become bogged down in despair. Each brings spirit to their parts. I was most impressed with Mihaela Strâmbeanu, possessed of a firm alto which finds shades of grey in volume. We discern the anger she feels in being told to “shag anyone you want” by her husband, but she doesn't simply shout the line. Irina Vacarciuc is perhaps too firm, speaking largely in the same barking tone. Even the poems can be appreciated by a Briton, retaining the rhymes and refrains to which we are so accustomed. And there is a vein of black comedy too, with Snejana Puicâ ripping apart a chicken in lieu of her husband.

What the show sets out to achieves, it achieves well. I came away informed and, although already aware that men in power can be corrupt, despairing of the fallacy of the law. And yet, with regret, a solid three star rating fails me. For the full eighty minutes those without fluent Romanian must read subtitles projected behind the actresses. Notwithstanding a general aversion to foreign language media in Britain- which, I must stress, I do not share- the text succumbs to practical problems: sometimes it appears after the sentence it translates, sometimes during: a niggling inconsistency; words are oft occluded by an actress' head, particularly when the striking Strâmbeanu is at the front of the stage. The show is ultimately too much of a gamble to recommend outside the context of 'If Show X is full, you could always try...'

Speaking objectively, spending £7 is worth the rarity of seeing four professional Romanian actresses and the charity to which your money contributes. But humans work within the subjective, and in terms of enjoyment I would hesitate to send you straight to 'M House' for a first-choice afternoon show.

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