Please note: This review – like the production itself – discusses sexual assault. Please take care when reading and click off this article if this subject is triggering to you.
For a play about plumbing, Abby Vicky-Russell’s Gush is in fact full of disarming, dry humour, with a heartbreaking and raw revelation which throws a spanner in the works.
Vicky-Russell plays Neil, a procrastinating and people-pleasing Yorkshire plumber who would rather talk about anything else than fix the leaking pipe putting on hold another show about vulvas. For a show which we never actually get to see, set designer Martha Armitage goes all out with fanciful flair. Red curtains are draped at the back, and there’s a neatly designed sign for ‘Gush’ hanging from the ceiling. In fact, the only glimpse we get of the other show is in the occasional voiceover, in which a female individual speaks candidly about sexual assault – something Neil really doesn’t want to hear about.
So we are left in the company of Neil, who blurts his way through pub anecdotes, gives us a rendition of “Tubthumping”, and quietly eating a quiche while dramatic music plays out on the speakers. He also wants to show us pictures of his daughter on his phone, complete with a flip case, once he manages to navigate Facebook and put on some pink reading glasses.
Vicky-Russell all too easily basks in the awkwardness of the forced small talk and air of expectation from the audience, at times even ridiculing our laughter at the mundane when Neil is doing his job – or rather, putting off doing it as much as possible.
Under Will Armstrong’s direction, the periods of silence – which we come to learn are pretty significant in this hour-long play – are tightly timed. Their transition from being the cringeworthy kind of funny to emotionally heavy is abrupt and striking, the kind of twist which brings a renewed understanding of the scenes which came before. The eventual dropping of the ‘act’ by Vicky-Russell (which some will inevitably say took too long in terms of the running time), and the play’s deconstruction, is devastating. Gush is a powerful and important plea to reattribute the shame around sexual assault to the abuser, to break down the harmful prevailing narrative around this sensitive topic, and to invite healthier and gentle conversations on this issue.
Gush is now playing at VAULT Festival until 12 March.
Production Images: Abby Vicky-Russell.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Gush’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.