Ruckus - Photo credit Ali Wright.

Ruckus at Southwark Playhouse | Review

Jenna Fincken’s debut play Ruckus is a thrilling and uncomfortable insight into the world of coercive control and toxic relationships. Inspired by real stories and research from leading domestic abuse charities, Georgia Green directs this deeply unsettling production, luring the audience in softly before shattering perspectives and revealing the shocking, albeit statistically inevitable outcome, of modern-day patriarchy and violence against women.

Ruckus - Photo credit Ali Wright.
Ruckus – Photo credit Ali Wright.

Primary school teacher Lou, performed by Fincken, meets ‘disgustingly nice’ Ryan who, at first, says and does all the right things. He wants to take time before jumping into bed with her, reassures her when she’s feeling in doubt, and seems like potential marriage material from the off. After only a few months, Ryan convinces her to move in together by the seaside. She needs a place to live, and finally manages to get the promotion she’s been looking for at work. It all just seems to make sense. As their relationship develops, the cracks begin to reveal, and Lou finds herself unable to escape from the psychological abuse of her partner.

Fincken quickly builds a warm rapport with the audience. After setting up the framework, she invites us into her world with humour and fast-paced storytelling. Her timing is impeccable, both in the delivery of the text and in how she takes charge of the performance space, asking ‘what’s the point of having the coil if you’re never going to use it?’, or comically slipping her arm into the wrong sleeve of her coat. She creates this very likeable, confident, strong protagonist, later questioning her strength as things begin to crumble. She is a strong woman. And yet that doesn’t make her immune to the abuse which follows. It’s an important statement being made here: that even the strongest people can fall victim to abusers. Fincken’s voice is deep and controlled. She screams in despair, becoming broken in front of us. It’s a remarkable performance.

Tingying Dong’s sound design becomes menacing, screeching. It’s practically cinematic in its intensity. Simeon Miller’s lighting is able to give breath and daylight, before casting us into darkness, isolating Fincken in a cold, blurry wash. An elastic physical language created by Movement Director Christina Fulcher turns the impact of Ryan’s coercion into a physical manifestation. Combined with Reuben Cohen’s Video Design, Green brings together the technical elements with great poetry and precision, creating a visceral and painful piece of storytelling.

Fincken has a real knack for shaping character, a brief description or line of dialogue painting the full picture of secondary characters without us ever having to see them. The narrative dips a little at times, but Fincken’s performance keeps the tensions high, and it’s a hugely impressive writing debut, which leaves the audience as devastated as the character. She is supported by a sickeningly kindly voice performance by Matthew Durkan as Ryan, which is careful and calculated. It’s a hard watch. But an important one. Expertly executed by a first-class creative team.

4 Stars

In this one-woman thriller, we see how a loving relationship can sometimes be anything but. Ruckus explores coercive control, an issue not widely recognised and yet its side effects kill up to three women every week in the UK. Each moment of the play has been inspired by real women and real stories.

Through a visceral sound design, Ruckus will send a shiver down your spine and make you more conscious of the suppression caused by coercive control.

Presented by the award-winning Wildcard.

Recommended for ages 16+.

Creative Team
Writer/Performer Jenna Fincken
Director Georgia Green
Producer Joey Dawson
Associate Producer Rachel Thomas
Sound Designer Tingying Dong
Movement Director Christina Fulcher
Lighting and Projection Designer Simeon Miller
Video Designer Reuben Cohen
Set Designer Miranda Keeble
Production Manager Charlotte Ranson
Stage Manager Becky Thornton

Jenna Fincken
Matthew Durkan (Voice Over)

5 – 29 OCT 2022

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