Review: Ruckus, Southwark Playhouse

Jenna Fincken delivers a chilling cautionary tale about coercive control in Edinburgh transfer Ruckus at the Southwark Playhouse

“Did you see it?”

Arriving at the Southwark Playhouse after a very well-received run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Wildcard Theatre’s Ruckus gives us a clear-eyed, unrelenting look at what shapes coercive control can take in relationships and the devastating effects it can have. It remains under-recognised in the UK criminal justice system even though research here suggests that “its side effects kill up to three women every week in the UK”.

Written and performed by Jenna Fincken, we begin with the meet-cute between primary school teacher Lou and Ryan (with the good teeth). We also see a caption that tells us ‘824 days to go’. With the context provided to us, a gnawing sensation in the pit of the stomach thus kicks in but as Fincken’s Lou asks us to consider right from the off, it is rarely as clear-cut and obvious as all that, in large part due to the appalling lack of official acknowledgement.

As Ryan sweeps Lou off her feet, always ready with a joke, a G&T and charming her mum to boot, it seems like a no-brainer when he suggests moving to Newquay. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, he exerts more and more control over her life, turning his neck rubs into something closer to a chokehold but the thing is, she knows it is happening, is aware of the warning signs as she looks after the safeguarding of her pupils and yet still…

Georgia Green’s production has Fincken play all the roles save for Ryan himself, who appears via recorded voiceover from Matthew Durkan. It is a fascinating choice, meta even as he exerts control even here, that reflects a little of the invisible threat posed by men like him. And as Fincken ricochets around a supporting cast of characters all desperate to offer Lou a way out, that feeling in the stomach just grows stronger, guided by Tingying Dong’s rumbling sound design and the punchy flashes of Simeon Miller’s lighting and projections.

Each moment of Ruckus has been inspired by real women and real stories and that’s a duty of care that extends throughout the storytelling, stopping as it does before anything that could be deemed gratuitous. Fincken’s highly physical performance, in conjunction with Christina Fulcher’s movement direction, leaves us in no doubt though as to the telling of stories like these and taking them seriously.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Mihaela Bodlovic
Ruckus is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 29th October

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