Women Divided by Sexual Abuse
“It’s like kicking a horse uphill! “
Set in Yorkshire, Róisín McBrinn directs for Clean Break, a story about a family divided by a history of child abuse by their deceased father, Mr Dixon. Mary, or Mrs Dixon (Brid Brennan) has just been released from serving three months in prison of a six month sentence for covering up abuse. As Mary arrives home, Mary’s granddaughter Ella (Yazmin Kayani) and Mary’s daughter Julie (Andrea Lowe) are ready to jump out and shout “Surprise!” But Mary is not in the mood for surprises.
Mary is really angry at being imprisoned and her first thoughts are to clean up her husband’s graffitied grave in the same way as her denial is cleaning up his memory. Ella thank goodness is too young, and too protected, to have been abused by her grandfather and is the success of the family, an undergraduate at a university in Leeds. It is Tina now renamed Briana (Alison Fitzjohn) and Julie who bear the scars of abuse.
I’m not sure as to Briana’s relationship to Mary but it seems that she was perhaps fostered when Julie was six and Bernie (Liz White) was three years old. Brianna was that much older and she is convinced that she was chosen, to divert Mr Dixon’s paedophilic attention away from Julie and Bernie, by a knowing and complicit Mary. Brianna has had some contact with Julie while Mary was in prison but Mary insists on seeing Briana as a liar who destroyed her husband’s good name.
It is Bernie who is tasked with the practical, organising her mother attending the parole appointments. Julie has met with Briana and is trying to help Briana see Mary. Mary is the character who has stayed still, firmly supporting her husband and vilifying Briana with toxicity. Briana has obviously had counselling for trauma and she offers good advice to Ella about support at universities for students who are victims of the power imbalance between lecturers and students. Briana also has good bandaging skills.
Mary is very fussy about who has been in her house and in her bedroom but curiously brings back a fellow prisoner, waif Leigh (Posy Sterling) who has many issues, to stay in her house. Leigh is comic relief with her outrageous comments. Some of the play tales on a thriller genre with sudden door banging open in the darkness, a bright light or characters feeling unease at being in the spare bedroom, presumably where the abuse took place. I did gasp at least once.
Kat Heath’s set encompasses the whole house but sometimes with rooms behind gauze or dimly lit.
What Deborah Bruce’s play does well is to explore the fall out from situations of child abuse. The damage to the children is compounded by not being believed and those closest to them, who should protect them, allying with their abuser. Dixon and Daughters provides much cause for thought.
Dixon and Daughters
Written by Deborah Bruce
Directed by Róisín McBrinn
Director: Róisín McBrinn
Designer: Kit Heath
Lighting Designer: Paul Constable
Sound Designer: Sinéad Diskin
Movement Director: Sarita Pietrowski
Fight Director: Bethan Clark
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Booking to 10th June 2023
London SE1 9PX
Rail/Tube : Waterloo
Telephone: 020 7452 3000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Dorfman Theatre
on 26th April 2023