Harlow play showcases victims of domestic violence

image copyrightFoteini Christofilopoulou
image captionAll of the women who appear in Smack That (a conversation) have experienced domestic abuse

A woman who escaped an abusive partner has said sharing her story on stage is "the best thing I've ever done".

Jane - not her real name - is one of seven women appearing in Smack That (a conversation), which was commissioned by and is showing at Harlow Playhouse.

Before she was invited to be part of the production, the former nursery nurse had never performed before.

Rhiannon Faith, who created and devised the show, said: "We often have to hand out tissues as people get emotional."

The play features a mix of professional and first-time performers, all of whom have suffered domestic abuse.

It is set at a party where the host, a woman named Beverly, gives her account of surviving an abusive relationship. All of the performers play Beverly and share the stories.

image copyrightChrista Holka
image captionShow creator Rhiannon Faith hopes it will help raise awareness of domestic abuse

Every venue that is part of the play's UK tour becomes a "J9" location - a "safe space" where victims of domestic abuse can go at any time to make a phone call or use computers to seek help.

All staff receive specialist training to support abuse victims, who may not feel they can safely approach the police but could go to a theatre.

The J9 initiative was set up in memory of 34-year-old Janine Mundy, who was murdered in front of her two sons by her estranged husband in 2003.

"I'm so proud to be a part of it," said Jane, who lives in Essex and found out about the play from her local support group.

The mother-of-two started attending sessions run by the Safer Places charity after her marriage broke down and things "really kicked off".

Jane, 30, recalled how the "perp" would follow her, try to abuse her and "use the kids as weapons".

"A couple of people had said to me that things weren't right but I just couldn't see it," she said. "You're blind to it until someone else's experiences make you realise."

image copyrightHarlow Playhouse
image captionSmack That (a conversation) was commissioned by the Harlow Playhouse

Jane said she still finds getting up on stage "nerve-wracking" but the other women always get her through it.

"We're like a little family," she said. "We've got each other's backs."

Ms Faith, from Maldon, Essex, said she was "super proud" of all the "Bevs" in the show.

"We're trying to raise awareness as much as we can to protect our women," she said. "They're all survivors."

Smack That (a conversation) is at the Harlow Playhouse until Saturday, then will be at the Ovalhouse in London for three weeks before touring the UK until June.

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