Post-show discussion: ‘Our Glass House’

Every performance of ‘Our Glass House’ was followed by a post-show discussion. Here are some thoughts, messages and things we often talked about in them.

‘You are here as a witness’
Through taking ‘Our Glass House’ to different communities in very different areas, this message has become more and more important to us – featured in our set design, emblazoned in large letters outside the house. We all have a responsibility to each other, to hear what’s going on through our neighbours’ walls or behind the door of a house as we walk down the street. If you hear abusive language or banging, shouting, screaming- you can call the police. The police need evidence to act. We can’t expect a service or organisation to fix domestic abuse. Attitudes need to change on a wider social level. An amazing break-through for us was after our Edinburgh launch when we had a post-show with ScotlandChief Police Commissioner and other heads of service and the Head of NHS Edinburgh said that with the audience being so close to the action, the show had made him think of how organisations could empower communities to take action. A shocking statistic that galvanised this message, is that the London Met Police received 120,000 calls last year about domestic abuse and only 4% of these were from neighbours.

We really distrust the use of the word ‘victim’
We need to re-think our language around domestic abuse. No-one we’ve met in our time interviewing people have ever looked or acted like a ‘victim’- quite the opposite, that’s why there is no crying in the show, everyone we met was matter of fact and had a great amount of understanding and strength from their situation. Who do you know who would like to be called a ‘victim’? We think this label diminishes someone’s person-hood and is prohibitive in someone coming forward, they don’t want people to know this was happening to them or have that label of a ‘victim’ put on them. Who would?

Survivors of domestic abuse are strong
A fantastic woman from Edinburgh Women’s Aid spoke to us about the STRENGTH that a person experiencing domestic abuse demonstrates, that to maintain and live with a perpetrator and the never-ending rules takes an enormous amount of strength. The people we interviewed had a lot of hope and belief in their abusive partner, seeing the perpetrator’s capability to be caring, charming and loving some days, and it was this potential that the other partner would invest in. The characters within ‘Our Glass House’, and the people we interviewed all left with nothing, so many people spoke about leaving with their baby and their purse. Or their phone and a carrier bag. Sufiya, the Punjabi character left with a bin bag full of red cloth that trailed behind her as she went down the street. Seeing Helen, the character in her 70’s leave her grand living room, with absolutely nothing was a very powerful feeling as was watching pregnant Nicola shouting up at the house, sometimes in the snow or hail. People who leave an abusive environment have an extraordinary amount of COURAGE to leave with nothing, with often no one to help (because of the compounding factor of their isolation) and not knowing where they will go. We wanted to celebrate this with the endings of our show; everyone leaves with nothing- except their resolve.

Domestic abuse should not be taboo
We should not be afraid to talk about domestic abuse, whether that’s asking someone if their partner is controlling or talking about our own experiences. Domestic abuse is a crime perpetuated by its silence- silence is one of the most powerful weapons a perpetrator has- it emboldens the crime. We should not be ashamed if it has happened to us – it’s for the perpetrator to feel ashamed of. When researching and making the show, the question outsiders asked the most was ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ not ‘Why does he hurt her?’ We put so much emphasis on the woman or man experiencing domestic abuse instead of looking at the perpetrator and their actions. This is reflected in our sentencing within court, our attitudes in the media and on the streets, the way that when a woman is murdered by her partner this is not reported as ‘domestic abuse.’ We need more perpetrator programmes to help change attitudes so perpetrators don’t go on to another abusive relationship or to commit homicide. In Scotland, the police have re-categorised domestic abuse as murder prevention and this is how serious we should all treat it.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone
That’s why the show features characters from very diverse backgrounds, gender, age, race, religion and class. In part this also demonstrates that perpetrators come from all walks of life. Often a person experiencing domestic abuse is made to feel that their background was a contributing factor (you’re too poor, too posh, not man enough, not woman enough), based on our research with ‘Our Glass House’, it’s clear, domestic abuse can happen to anyone. There is no one face of domestic abuse, it doesn’t just happen to ‘weak’ people, often a perpetrator will find someone who is at their strongest, their brightest and will find extra gain in diminishing this person’s sense of self.

Domestic abuse is a young person’s issue
Amongst all age groups, DA is on the rise the most amongst 16-25 year olds- the issue is not going away, it’s not an issue of the past. Throughout the duration of our 120 shows in five different cities, most disclosures (of people coming up to us after the show and saying ‘that happened to me’) came from young women, often they had never told anyone before. Many young women don’t consider being forced to have sex by their boyfriend to be rape. That’s why we made the conscious decision that Kayleigh never, ever sees the darkness in her situation – when she talks about ‘They’re inside me. Both ends’ in the toilet, she is on top of the world ‘fucking and floating’ outside her self. As an audience, we can see Kayleigh’s in trouble but Kayleigh is not yet admitting it to herself.

Women can be abusive and controlling too and men shouldn’t have to ‘put up with it’. No one should.
Our decision to have a man in the show who was experiencing domestic abuse from his girlfriend came from a very real place, and us seeing violent women in our own lives as well as the scores of interviews we conducted. Yet, even then, a senior Domestic Abuse worker in Bristol felt that the male character’s partner should be a man – because of course domestic abuse happens in gay relationships too. For us, this would have been too much of a cop out – to say that only men are abusive. The gender roles that can make a woman stay in an abusive relationship are also the ones that can make a man stay – that he feels he has to be macho, to be the provider, that he should withstand the abuse. With ‘Our Glass House’, we wanted to understand and show the reasons people stay – the first forty minutes of the play explores this complex reasoning – but we also knew everyone had to leave – that everyone we interviewed left – that communities, neighbours, friends, family should be empowered to support people to leave, that people make new lives, even with nothing and their person-hood, their individuality that often a perpetrator will attack, is the most important thing.