Next Time is an important and hard-hitting piece of theatre, following a young woman’s attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Staged in the bedroom of a third-floor flat, this piece makes the viewer a powerless voyeur, and a first-hand witness to the unnamed woman’s struggles. She writhes in pain, distressed and terrified, as she plans her escape from the confines of the flat and her husband.
The play’s intensity rests in its raw portrayal of victimhood by Fran Isherwood. We see the effect of fear, pain and frustration on her physicality – her strained movements, shortness of breath, and eventual broken dialogue create an honest sense of frustrated suffering. Jess Moore has written a character who is both deeply vulnerable and incomprehensibly strong, eloquently portrayed by Isherwood.
The staging in this intimate space makes Isherwood’s raw emotions palpable and contagious. It’s fitting that such a personal experience is set within the bedroom, both the victim’s ‘home’ – a place that’s usually associated with security and refuge – and the location of the abuse. Next Time plays out in real time, building a sense that we’re permitted a snapshot into the life of a victim, and again allowing us to share a tense anticipation and urgency – before her husband’s inevitable return.
Moore's script cleverly isolates the husband into an offstage character. The phone constantly sounds, with a ringtone specific to him, and he leaves messages for his wife: first apologetic, then manipulative, and finally very threatening. Again, by allowing Isherwood the stage to herself, Next Time projects the voice of the silenced victim, whilst depicting the deep-rooted extent of the abuse; abuse which happens even by telephone, when the husband is not at home.
At times it does lack pace and plot, but it must be remembered that a strong narrative is not the aim of this play. We are permitted a naturalistic glimpse into the life of the abused – and though, at points, this feels a little slow, Next Time successfully raises questions about the practicality of escaping an abusive partner in a powerful and emotive way.
When the play concludes, Isherwood tells the audience that – on average – sufferers of domestic violence attempt to escape seven times before they are successful. The play poses the question: what abuse might be unfolding behind any given door – and will the victim make their escape, Next Time?