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The town is run-down Worthing, jay and Dave, his father, are Irish (a little uncomfortable that), and between them they run a B&B mainly for DSS clients. Dave is jealous of Jay's youth, his contacts in the music business and is convinced that he is sleeping with his own mistress. Most pathetically, he rings up to apologise after yet another beating, to drone on endlessly of imagined past happiness while the receiver lies on the bed where jay has contemptuously left it. Even when beaten up so badly that he temporarily loses his sight, Jay won't go to the police, refusing to admit that he belongs to that group of people described by Princess Di as "battered this and battered that", and presumably waiting to hold her hand.
Lured into their trap are two women: thrice-married Phoebe, who convinces herself that Dave is gentle; and Kate, a bit self-consciously played by Stephanie Buttle, a college drop-out who immediately falls into Jay's bed. In his warped mind, sex and violence have become inextricably linked and yet, frustratingly, Kate seems unable to escape right from the very beginning. Against a background of rows of deckchairs, Jane Howell's production takes a cool look at a play in which newcomer Billy Carter is impeccable as the fucked-up son.
Jane Edwardes - Time Out 29/11-6/12/1995
Meanwhile, the small-scale vibrancy continues in the Court's Theatre Upstairs with Judy Upton's Bruises, a scathing 90-minute anthology of domestic violence in Worthing, Sussex, of all places.
The waif-like Kate (Stephanie Buttle) arrives in town to visit her abandoned, flakey mum (Patricia Brake) and books into a bed-and-breakfast that resembles, in thematic tension if not interior decoration, the palace of Theseus. The owners, an Irish father and son, Dave and Jay - robustly played by Ian Redford and Billy Carter - are both in love with another guest, the blowsy, thrice-married Phoebe (played by the outstanding Anna Keaveney). Jay says, 'Kiss me, Kate!' and then beats her up. His father beats him up, and Phoebe's just plain beat.
The writing - which is lean to the point of anorexia, like so much contemporary small scale writing implies a cycle of violence and even dependency on it. Upton's palpable talent is ably abetted in Jane Howell's production and Hayden Griffin's wintry Worthing design of soiled deck chairs and a single bed serving all corners on a fitted boardwalk.
Judy Upton is one of several outstanding new writers emerging from the Royal Court's forcing-ground of youth schemes, workshops and sponsorship.
The Observer - 26/11/95
When Princess Diana talked on Panorama about the victims of domestic violence - "battered this, battered that" - she could have been describing the characters in Judy Upton's quietly upsetting new play. Upton shows the awful banality of abuse and suggests that, like many harmful diseases, it is congenital.Even though Jane Howell's production feels hesitant and under -rehearsed, Bruises packs a slow but powerful punch.
This is no angry polemic but a subtly atmospheric piece. From the moment that pert Kate comes face to pretty face with the insolently handsome Jay in a shabby Worthing guest house, there is an air of suppressed eroticism and violence. Jay's chat-up technique is brusque to the point of contempt, but then emotions don't run tender in this household. His massive dad, Dave (rumbling Ian Redford), is an angry drunk, jealous of his son's looks and teenage success as a musician. Although his middle-aged lover Phoebe (Anna Keaveney) thinks he's "gentle", Dave likes to rearrange Jay's face. Like father, like son. Kate's relationship with Jay escalates with rather unlikely speed, and so does his jealous temper. He hits her; she leaves; he pleads; she returns. Upton is shrewd enough to show more than regressive, familiar pattern: in a cruelly ironic scene revealing the invisibility of abuse, Kate and Jay excuse their bruises to Kate's mother Myrtle even as her own, non-violent relationship is ending in despair. Sometimes Howell's production is so muted it almost grinds to a halt, but she draws a rivetingly dangerous performance from newcomer Billy Carter as Jay, and an erratically touching vulnerability from the elfin Stephanie Buttle as Kate. Patricia Brake's twittering Myrtle is annoying, but this may be the point. Neither writer nor director seeks easy answers in this coolly disturbing view of an issue usually hammered home with both fists.
Evening Standard - 27/11/95
The fruits of this commitment can be seen in Bruises, Judy Upton's sharp-witted follow-up to Ashes and Sand, which won her the George Devine Award.
The earlier piece was set in a world of female frustration and male fear, among the deadend kids of a southern seaside resort, and it dramatised the violence meted out to a young detective by a gang of teenage girls. In Bruises, we are back at the seaside (Worthing, to be precise), and once again enclosed in an atmosphere of violence. The rough stuff here, though, is that which is administered in abusive relationships and transmitted like some tainted inheritance. A hard-drinking, sexually jealous father (lan Redford), who runs a seedy DSS-patronised B&B while harbouring absurd ambitions of making a name for himself in the pop music industry, finds a release for his feelings of futility by visiting violence on his dishy son Jay (Billy Carter). Outwardly cocky but fundamentally insecure, Jay passes on the violence to new girlfriend Kate (Stephanie Buttle), who has come to Worthing to check up on her vulnerable mother (Patricia Brake). "How can you love me and treat me like a punch bag?" asks the bruised, swelling Kate.
With a deft, bleak humour, Bruises explores the stifling emotional intimacy that is the paradoxical result of violence and demonstrates how the perpetrators, in presenting themselves (sometimes justly) as victims, get a blackmailing hold over the partners they both oppress and use as pity-dispensers. The irony of Jane Howell's extremely well acted production, though, is that, on a physical level, it pulls its punches. The fisticuffs need to make a strong visceral impact, but the blows are all too clearly pretend ones, bearing the same insipid relationship to true violence as alcohol-free lager does to the genuine article. I think, too, that it would have been better if Upton had actually shown us the crucial episode where the father, on learning that his 40-year-old girlfriend (Anna Keaveney) has had a relationship with his son, threatens to kill her unless the two of them have sex in front of him. Because the scene is only reported, its devastating consequences come across as thin and shrilly melodramatic.
Paul Taylor - Independent 24/11/1995
Almost unbearably harrowing - but worth the effort.
I'm uneasily aware that anything I say about Judy Upton's bleak, prize-winning play will merely increase people's resolve not to see it. It offers 90 almost unbearable minutes of physical pain and emotional desolation. Yet this is a courageous and often impressive work that tackles a subject most of us would prefer to forget - domestic violence.
The action is set in a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Worthing. The cheerless refuge of drifters' and DSS clients is presided over by Dave, a burly, brooding and often drunken Irishman, but it is his son Jay who seems to do most of the work even though he doesn't live there and has another job in a bar. Jay initially seems, a likeable chancer, and when a young student, Kate, turns up, she quickly fails for his good looks and glib tongue. But Jay is frequently beaten up by his father, and when Jay suddenly lashes out at Kate, you feel like screaming at her to get out of this relationship as fast as she can.
As Dave lays into his son, so the son lays into Kate. Jay, obviously bright and a man who knows just what it's like to be hurt, seems incapable of breaking free of the cycle of viciousness.
Upton mercilessly lays bare not only the violence, but also the remorse and the grotesque self-pity that follow it. There's a remarkable scene in which the father bleats pitiably down the phone to his son, begging for forgiveness and vowing to mend his ways, and Jay doesn't even bother to listen because be has heard it so often before. But Upton goes on to show Jay using exactly the same contemptible emotional blackmail on Kate. There were moments in this play when I felt the dialogue lacked spark, only to realise that this was surely deliberate. Upton suggests a world of mental and verbal impoverishment. It doesn't all work. The character of Kate's suicidal mother seems to be there only to pile on the agony.
Jane Howell's production fails to make the violence achieve the required visceral impact, and Upton herself ducks out of the most potentially dramatic scene, merely and having a character events which would have desperate need to made for extraordinary, if sickening, theatre.
The acting is excellent. Ian Redford is menacing as the thick, bullying father, Billy Carter makes you care about Jay even as you despise him, and Stephanie Buttle movingly shows a likeable woman becoming inextricably ensnared. Anna Keaveney is remarkable as a vacuously promiscuous lodger who sleeps with both father and son and causes no end of trouble between them. Her desperate need to have someone, anyone, in her lonely bed is symptomatic of the inarticulate heartache and moral fecklessness that pervade this harrowing, haunting play.
Charles Spencer - Daily Telegraph 23/11/1995
Judy Upton's play should win her plenty of new friends. but they are unlikely to include Worthing's Chamber of Comerce or Hoteliers' Association. As she evokes the resort, the gulls are grey, the boarding houses are reliant on people referred to them by the DSS, the night-life is terminally dull, and the only men we meet beat up each other or their women. Since the standard excuse for facial bruises seems to be that you have fallen off a mountain bike, we are in several senses talking of a cycle of violence.
Upton does not bring any stunning new insights to that well-thumbed subject, but she does handle it with sensitivity. When Kate (Stephanie Buttle) comes to visit her mother, she quickly falls under the spell of Jay (Billy Carter), only to discover that his reaction to disagreement or frustration is to hit her. And why? Because father (Ian Redford) has always behaved in the same way to him. Indeed, there is a suspicion that the brain haemorrhage that killed his mother was not really the result of failing downstairs. as the coroner thought.
What distinguishes Upton is her terse, understated dialogue, along with her determination to understand rather than proselytise. Certainly, she has caught another cycle of behaviour very well: a kick in the teeth, abject apologies, an edgy rapprochement, then a boot in the stomach. Better still, she and Jane Howell's strong cast communicate the bewilderment of all involved. How can I be doing this, how can I be putting up with it?
The play ends inconclusively, as so intransigent a subject and so addictive a habit both demand, but not exactly indecisively. As I left the Royal Court, a woman accidentally bumped me with her handbag and went into apologies we both recognised as absurdly fulsome: "Oh God, I'm so sorry." To strike other people is wrong, and it is dangerous. Upton had certainly succeeded in demonstrating that.
Benedict Nightingale - The Times 23/11/1995
Sex and violence are back on the agenda at the Theatre Upstairs. But the good thing about Judy Upton's Bruises, winner of the 1994 Verity Bargate Award and a follow-up to last year's Ashes and Sand, is that it takes a searching, unsensational look at the issue of male violence, even if it is stronger on domestic symptoms than social causes.
Upton's main point seems to be that the problem is genetic. Her disturbed hero, Jay, runs a Worthing B&B with his truculent dad. Over the years he has been beaten by his father; Jay not only inherits that violence but comes to associate it with sex. Before the play starts, he has
bedded and beaten up a lodger and when Kate, a student with problems of her own, comes to stay it is only a matter of time before their mutual love is corroded by physical abuse.
Upton's great strength is that she starts with people rather than lofty generalities. You feel she cares about her characters and is more concerned to understand than to condemn. There's a helpless, little-boy lost quality about Jay that explains why Kate obstinately sticks with him rather than running for help. At the same time, Upton implies that there is a devious circularity about the problem of male violence. Jay, proclaiming "I'm not a battered baby", has a macho pride that prevents him reporting his father's cruelty and Kate, by stoically accepting her own victimisation, becomes a complicit partner. How, Upton asks, do we ever break the cycle if men perpetuate it and women subscribe to it?
The one question she never gets to grips with is the real source of violence, She drops various hints: the father's sexual jealousy of his son, the sterility of life in a decrepit seaside town and even somewhat tendentiously, the family s apparent Irish origins. But even if it leaves the social factors unexplored, it is still a mature, compassionate piece of writing.
Jane Howell's production, a joint venture between the Royal Court and the Soho Theatre Company, is deftly set by Hayden Griffin against a background of stacked-up deckchairs and played with quiet truth - especially by Billy Carter, on his professional debut, as Jay wrestling with a demon he cannot control, by Stephanie Buttle as the sympathetic but helpless Kate and Anna Keaveney as the maternal lodger.
Michael Billington - The Guardian 23/11/1995
Set on the Sussex coast in a bed-and-breakfast, Judy Upton's new play Bruises follows the lives of Dave (Ian Redford) and Jay (Billy Carter), a father and son who come from a tradition of violent abuse, alcoholism and incest. Dave owns and runs the hotel while Jay cooks, but darker things are afoot beneath the surface of this pretty seaside town. For Jay is being repeatedly beaten by Dave, a forgotten, would-be rock hero who's a slave to his drink.
The play opens with only one guest Phoebe (Anna Keaveney) - in residence at this "DSS are welcome" B&B. Phoebe has become Dave's woman, but was also involved with Jay in her early days at the digs. This inevitably heightens the sexual tension between the three characters, who are all victims of the past.
This love triangle is interrupted by Kate (Stephanie Buttle), who arrives fresh-faced from the Big Smoke in search of her mother, Myrtle (Patricia Brake), who has fled to Worthing with a yuppie named Duncan. It is here the play kicks into action as we see the complexities of the relationships between these characters turn into a tangled web of abuse and pain.
Bruises appeals on many different levels. It is not solely about physical violence; it is also about abuse, and just how much we take on board in our relationships. The play illustrates how a sense of fear, ambiguity or danger can become excitingly attractive in a relationship, and how this can manifest itself into an addictive behavioural pattern. The more pain you suffer, the more love you seek.
As the play progresses, we see how these fragile creatures fight for survival in a world where it seems easier to let your past dictate your future than change it yourself. It is no coincidence these people are drawn to one another, for their friendships are based on gut reactions to people like themselves.
Jane Howell's direction places the right sensitivity and integrity required to work this play, aided by an effective set. design from Hayden Griffin and music from Paul Arditti which evokes the full atmosphere of coastal Britain. Bruises is about people abusing one another and the domino effect of human behaviour, and as such offers a palatable dose of real life.
Mandarine Gale - What s On 29/11/1995
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