King’s Arms, Salford.
On a family break to Haven Holidays, Ann finds herself unexpectedly falling for good-looking barman Danny. His charming smile and shiny shoes attract her attention but it’s their shared taste in music, including a love of Shakin’ Stevens, that seals the deal. It was, she says, a “match made in heaven“.
Three months after meeting they move in together, ten months later they are enjoying a holiday abroad, and then, “bang“, he hits her.
Green Door is based on Ann Brown’s own real-life experiences of domestic abuse. Performed as a monologue, it documents the violence and manipulation she endured, and how Danny’s behaviour robbed her of any sense of self-worth.
Brown’s open, conversational style effortlessly engages the audience. Her story-telling is more subtly layered than it lets on. Voicing other characters’ words, recounting past events as if in-the-moment, or adopting the role of narrator, she switches perspective and time frame with deceptive ease.
The tightly-written script flows smoothly and is adept at managing changes in mood. Sparky dry humour nestles among more sombre events, and there are happier moments before Danny shows his true nature. Details of the violence and humiliation Brown suffered are recounted with chilling matter-of-fact clarity.
A sense of carefully judged restraint permeates Brown’s performance. She is calm and measured yet emotionally direct. Her movements feel composed and purposeful, her actions reflective. Even the smallest details, like the placement of her hands, or the tilt of her head, can speak volumes.
Daniel Brennan’s unfussy direction serves the production well, and incorporates some sensitively applied theatrical touches. Simple but evocative lighting design enhances the staging. A stark spotlight exposes Ann’s vulnerability, a faint sliver of illumination suggests hope at one point, and when the violence peaks, the theatre is plunged into total darkness.
Later, during a conversation in a cafe with another woman who suffered at Danny’s hands, background chatter and the clatter of the cutlery can gradually be heard. It’s as if Ann is reconnecting with the world around her, emerging from emotional isolation.
Green Door is undoubtedly a very personal piece of work. Brown welcomes audience members into the space, makes time within the narrative to talk about the show’s development, and explains how involvement with theatre has played a vital role in giving her the confidence to move on. However, she is also acutely aware that this is not just about her.
In one rousing sequence, common cause is made with others, a reminder that this is far from being a one-off story, now or throughout time. “Fat women, ugly women, … stupid women, moody women… Slags, bitches, whores and witches. Hormonal harridans, the lot of us” she says. “Except we are not. That’s just what some men, devoid of empathy, enjoy making us believe we are“. Those words ring out like a call to arms.
While Green Door is a powerful and moving piece of theatre, Brown’s underlying intention, set out so clearly at the start of the show, is to “tell you enough to make a difference“. More than personal testimony, not just a cautionary tale, it is ultimately designed to inspire others to escape from similar situations. As if to reinforce that, Brown’s parting shot sees her distill down the advice she would give to her younger self – you are not alone, speak to someone and “please know this, it’s not you, it’s them“.
Performance seen on 7 February 2020.
Images by ShowBuzzMCR and Shay Rowan.