Our Glass House

Femke Colborne talks to Evie Manning about a bold production that looks at domestic violence and is to be staged in a house in Bradford

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Two years ago, Evie Manning was shocked to witness domestic violence on her street. “I was good friends with the lady but I had no idea,” Manning says. “No one had a clue it was happening just next door.”

The experience inspired Manning to think about ways of tackling the subject of domestic violence with her theatre company Common Wealth. Founded by Manning and Rhiannon White after they first co-directed a production in Bristol in 2008, the company aims to explore political issues by taking a multidisciplinary approach to theatre, using visual arts, music, unusual sets and even magic.

“I thought it would be powerful to allow an audience access to the feelings that build up within an abusive household and allow them to see behind closed doors,” Manning says.

Domestic violence is a subject close to White’s heart, too: she grew up with an abusive stepfather and has also experienced an abusive relationship as an adult. The pair decided to start researching the subject and started by conducting a series of interviews with people who had experienced domestic violence, arranged through local charities. “We couldn’t have imagined some of these people’s stories,” Manning says. “We were really struck by people’s courage.”

The result is Our Glass House, a site-specific theatre event that originally took place in a disused house on a council estate in St George, Bristol. The show later returned for a second run in Bristol, having received funding from the Arts Council and the NHS, and this year it is coming to the Thorpe Edge estate in Bradford, where it opens on 26 February.

Our Glass House features six characters, each of whom occupies a different room in the house and represents a different background, class, race, age and gender. Kayleigh is 17 and lives with her boyfriend. Nicola is seven months pregnant and newly married. Dan has two children with a violent girlfriend who self-harms and he is constantly getting arrested. Helen, 68, has been married for 40 years.

Sufiya is from Pakistan and has limited English, speaking only in Punjabi, and Charlie is ten, with a father who has been violent and controlling since he was born.

The show involves live music as well as work by visual artists, riggers, carpenters and an illusionist. “We’re all about transformations, so the whole thing becomes quite fantastical,” Manning says. “It is a very visual, exciting piece of theatre.”

The directors opted not to include any perpetrators of violence in the show, instead focusing on the experiences of people living in abusive relationships and exploring why they choose to stay or leave. “We are looking at the issues but not making people into victims,” Manning says.

“We don’t want to diminish the experience; often there is love in these relationships and that’s why people stay. But at the end of the show, everyone leaves. That was a big message for us, to show people leaving, although some of the endings are quite fantastical.”

As with all Common Wealth’s shows, Our Glass House also aims to make a political point. “We want to make work that speaks to people and responds to what we see around us,” Manning says.

“There are shocking statistics surrounding domestic violence – two women a week will die as a result of it and this number is on the rise. We strongly believe this is a direct consequence of government cuts, which are widely acknowledged to be hitting women the hardest, and we hope this production gets people thinking about the valuable life-saving services that are under threat.”

Tickets must be purchased beforehand from The event is in a residential house. Meeting point: the Sycamores pub car park, Eccleshill, Bradford, BD2 2JZ

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