Billy is dead. His daughters have shot him – once in the stomach, then once more, to make sure he’s really gone. His wife Mary knows they’ll have to call the police – but there’s his bottle of whisky to get through first.
Such is the opening scene of Shelagh Stephenson’s gut-wrenching examination of intra-family abuse, which won several awards as a radio drama before first being adapted for the stage in 2000. Harrowing doesn’t come close: as Billy’s terrorised daughters gradually lift the lid on what drove them to kill him, we hear horrific accounts of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. In between come monologues from Billy and Mary, describing the pain and violence of their own childhoods.
It requires particular courage of an actor to play the kind of unreconstructed psychopath we meet in Billy – and in this competent production directed by Chris Loveless for Stepping Out Theatre (a group specialising in work on mental health themes), Zach Lee more than rises to the challenge. His performance is pure lean, musclebound menace, shot through with an equally disturbing seam of vulnerability.
There’s some good work from the rest of the cast, too – particularly Violet Ryder as the elder daughter, Janet – and the writing contains some beautiful lyrical passages.
Stephenson’s play is a brave exposé of abuse which, as its title implies, too often remains hidden behind veils of silence. But it could do with more light and shade: the sheer relentlessness with which Stephenson recounts the family’s torments ultimately has a numbing effect. Laura Barnett