Photo: Helen Murray

Dixon and Daughters, a powerful new play by Deborah Bruce, has finally made its way to the stage at the National Theatre following a Covid-related delay. It’s an interesting, if at times difficult and unsettling, watch; while occasionally veering in the direction of comedy or drama, this is very much a story about domestic abuse, alongside trauma and grief. We’re introduced to matriarch figure Mary (Brid Brennan), who has returned from prison after she seemingly lied in court to protect her now-deceased husband.

Two days in this family’s lives are condensed into 90 minutes (no interval). Alongside Mary we meet Julie (Andrea Lowe), a recovering alcoholic and domestic abuse victim; Bernie (Liz White) is the ‘sensible’, diplomatic one, trying her best to mediate and keep the family home functioning; stepdaughter Briana (Alison Fitzjohn) who is no longer welcome having testified against Mary in court; and granddaughter Ella (Yazmin Kayani), who seems to have escaped the troubled family to attend university in Leeds, although she’s back home for reading week. We also meet Leigh (Posy Sterling) who spent time in prison with Mary.

It’s a dysfunctional arrangement that leads to no end of arguments and drama – it’s a pacy, engaging show, although sometimes the tone is a little muddled, pivoting rather too quickly from comedy to horror. What it does extremely effectively, however, is paint a believable picture of a pattern of violence and abuse, one that is likely flying under the radar all too often. Not only is each family member forced to confront their pasts, but also themselves – and also their actions, or inaction.

Dixon and Daughters feels like an important story that needs a spotlight shone on it. While it may have been written pre-pandemic, rates of domestic violence increased under lockdown – it is perhaps more timely and relevant to have it staged now. It’s not perfect – some of the tonal shifts feel a bit rushed, and some of the comedic moments seem somewhat out of place considering the subject matter – but it remains an impressive piece of theatre. Certainly not an easy watch, but it feels like an important one.

GAY TIMES gives Dixon and Daughters – 4/5

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