“I’m not like that.
Even now, a week after I saw Gary Owen’s Violence and Son, I still don’t know what to say about it or more importantly, how to say it – it’s a rare thing for a play to stun me into such silence but a magnificent one too. Cai Dyfan’s circular set recalls the similar set-up for Mike Bartlett’s Cock but with its dirty white plastic chairs and drab demeanour, it speaks of something or somewhere more desperate – in this particular case, the isolation of the Welsh valleys but only a fool would say this story and its ramifications, as searchingly highlighted by director Hamish Pirie, are limited to that sole location.
Life is tough enough as a Doctor Who fan but 17-year-old Liam is suffering more than most after his mother’s death has meant to has to move Wales to live with the father who left before he was even born. Rick, whose nickname gives the show its title, claims to have last been sober when he was 14 and rage follows in his every footstep as he thinks nothing of battering everything and everyone around him. And as father and son get to know each other, Owen makes a powerful argument about the appalling toxicity of stereotypical notions of masculinity but also how difficult it is to shake a generational legacy.
Things come to a head when Liam brings home Jen, a fellow Whovian, and sets about trying to disentangle her from her current relationship with assistance from his dad – the one eager to prove he has a paternal instinct, the other eager to follow. But responsibility and gender relations aren’t a specialist subject in this slice of society, as chillingly explained by Jen and Suze, Rick’s lover, as they recount the sexual harassment they’re subjected to during every single visit down to the local, and the ugly issue of domestic violence soon rears its head in all its messy complexity.
And it is complex – Owen and Pirie expertly push and pull us from pillar to post, light to dark, acquiescent to appalled as different sides to the story emerge and competing accounts battle for sympathy. Aided by a superb quartet of performances, it is – again – magnificent. Jason Hughes is terrifying and terrifyingly believable as Rick, David Moorst’s spiky, slender Liam is utterly heartbreaking as the boy increasingly willing to do anything for his da, Morfydd Clark’s Jen nails the too-late awareness that all is not what it seems here and Siwan Morris fleshes out the underwritten Suze very well, in all her tragic delusion.
Turns out I did find something to say after all, who knew. But in all seriousness, I can’t recommend Violence and Son enough – one of the most compelling, thought-provoking plays of the year, whose brutal truths demand wider exposure.