Smack That (a Conversation) review – party games to change the world

Smack That (a Conversation) review – party games to change the world

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This isn’t your usual game of pass-the-parcel. The silver-paper package goes from hand to hand around the circle – but each time the music stops and a layer is unwrapped, out flutter a couple of statistics about domestic abuse. That a woman will be assaulted, on average, 35 times before receiving help. That every three days, a woman in England and Wales is killed by her partner.

Rhiannon Faith’s show bundles dance, participatory theatre and awareness-raising in one welcoming package. All six performers are called Beverly – a nod to the dauntless hostess in Abigail’s Party. (“That’s a reference for anyone who’s as old as fuck.” Cheers for that, Bev.) Each wears a silver wig and a shiny dress of gunmetal grey. The audience are all Bevs too, given a nickname (Blue Bev, Beardy Bev) on a sticky label as we settle down in a circle with some popcorn and a beaker of cider.

Faith and her cast have survived abuse, and fragments of their stories meld into one arc. Why frame the show as a rambunctious party? Faith has explained that, for many women in this situation, gatherings are fraught with the possibility of violence or humiliation – so this show offers a chance to wig out without fear. It’s a reclamation of fun without consequences, party games without mind games.

As it’s a party – you can cry if you want to, Psychologist Bev is on hand outside – there are indeed games. Cheeky quizzes (champagne or punch? Missionary or doggy?), a gigglesome confessional round that has us jumping to our feet (who’s spilled red wine on the carpet?). This lurches horribly into far less comfortable experiences, and we stay seated as Bev after Bev attests to coercion, control and physical and psychological attack.

Wig out without fear … Smack That (a Conversation).



Wig out without fear … Smack That (a Conversation). Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Each change of gears from darkness to raucous jollity feels more jarring. Fun fades as listening takes over. Some of the dance sequences allow the sextet to move in solidarity, but more often they break out into individual churn. Sitting so close, you feel how vulnerable bodies are – the thwack of a heavy fall, the tang of exertion. They’re bruisable, breakable. Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui and Maddy Morgan are especially exposed, staggering for balance or propelled by an unseen shove.

Worst is watching Masui’s face being smashed repeatedly into a Victoria sponge, long past the point when the cake has been reduced to pulpy crumbs. This is also the only time another Bev enacts the violence, tearing away a last shred of comfort: suddenly, there is no safe space here.

It could feel unsafe for us too, but the performers make sure we’re OK even as they negotiate the show’s darker territory. Morgan, our corner’s twinkling Bev, reassures us with warm smiles and eye contact. Another Bev quietly passes a tissue to an audience member who has found everything too much. They take care of each other too – winks, hugs, help with a wig gone astray.

Smack That isn’t – and probably shouldn’t be – too artful. Polish might smooth out the urgency of lived experience. This is theatre, but also a resource; the Barbican, like other theatres Smack That has visited, is now a J9 venue, training staff to offer help and information to domestic abuse victims. Faith’s work is small-scale but large in ambition – a party game to help change the world.

  • Smack That (a Conversation) is at the Barbican, London, until 16 June. Box office: 020-7638 8891. Then at Cast, Doncaster, 6 July. Box office: 01302 303959.



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