Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Three Stars

Welcome to the doll house in Estlin Love’s striking solo show, put together with director Al Seed and seen at Assembly Roxy in tandem with Fiona Oliver-Larkin’s play, Salt, also directed by Seed, until the end of this week. Love’s show shares similar themes with Oliver-Larkin’s piece, as it looks at the scars left behind by the brutality of domestic and sexual abuse.

Love’s survivor comes-to sprawled messily amidst a dumping ground of back-alley detritus, looking for all the world like one of the broken dolls stuffed into the torn black rubbish bags she’s all but buried alongside. This is a grotesque and disarming image to open with, and, if spotted without any prior knowledge, it would be easy to mistake her for a casualty from a Hallowe’en party that went on too long. The evidence here suggests something more troubling, and over the next 45 minutes or so, Love’s character looks in the mirror, not as a victim, but as someone whose first-hand experience is channelled into a dramatic collage that lays bare the roots of the problem.

By mouthing the platitudes of the bullying boyfriend or the old-school stand-up comedian, terrified children both, Love transcends their verbiage into an act of defiance. This subsequently empowers her enough to stand tall in the face of the physical and psychological violence designed to destroy her. It also makes for a powerful and demanding show that sees Love look her audience in the eye without flinching, until they too are forced to square up to some of the discomforting truths on show.

The wordless moments inbetween the litanies that Love incants through a microphone are similarly confrontational without ever hectoring, but which are delivered in a way that draws strength from their silences. As she wades through the trash, the dismembered plastic limbs of the dolls Love lines up on the floor are pieced together one by one before the hollow heart of a one-sided pop song is exposed as abandoned as everything that went before it.