Trigger warning: This review of All In Your Head contains reference to domestic abuse and coercive control.
I’ve never liked Valentine’s day. Everything’s always too sweet and sugary- verging the edge of sickly. There are too many pink love hearts, and too many stuffed bears. I don’t trust it. It’s not real.
This Valentine’s Day, I was gripped with that same unshakeable feeling as I watched Camden Peoples Theatre’s one-woman online show: All In Your Head. Between my fingers, I watched as this outgoing woman, performed by Naomi Sparrow, video-called her friend to check her outfit before an romantic dinner at The Shard with a man she joked could be “the one”.
But the show’s description, and the opening trigger warning of coercive control and domestic abuse, foreshadows that this relationship is not what it seems. Every line of dialogue, written by Safaa Benson-Effiom, was crammed full of red flags; there was no room to wave them and give off any kind of warning. Yet, it was Sparrow’s performance of a nameless woman, desperate to love but fighting her instincts to not repeat past relationship mistakes that was the most heart-wrenching part. It was less an online theatre experience than it was a pantomime. I screamed and waved frantically at my laptop screen, hoping (by some miracle) that she’d hear me before it was too late.
As much as we all miss traditional theatre, I cannot imagine a more compelling format for this show. All In Your Head is Arts Council funded, but envisioned and directed by Lucy Dear. The story’s scenes are stitched together with video calls with her friend Camille, daily love letter videos to her boyfriend, and eventually (as the abuse escalates) video calls to a therapist. I watched these scenes like they were windows into her life; I danced with her as she boogied her dishes clean to Beyoncé, I laughed when she laughed, and cried when she cried. I became more than an audience member, and certainly more than a friend because I could see behind the closed door. I got to see what the world outside could not. Yet, it was a door that I couldn’t walk through. I couldn’t warn or help her, I could only watch.
Dear’s concept was to bring the frightening rise of domestic violence cases that have occurred internationally during the last year of lockdowns to the forefront. The plot is based on first-hand accounts of women who have experienced coercive control. Their real words are woven throughout the scenes, fuelling the story and providing balance. Sparrow’s one-woman performance, set in the one flat, is a glimpse into what domestic abuse might look like and how isolating it is by nature, without the added weight of lockdowns. While Sparrow’s portrayal gave me an individual story to follow, the women’s voices sharing survivors’ real tales show just how widespread experiences of domestic abuse have become, especially recently. Domestic violence is a pandemic of our creation, and while COVID-19 forces us inside to keep us safe, behind closed doors is where this abusive pandemic breeds.
At times, All In Your Head was difficult to watch. There were moments where I wasn’t watching Sparrow’s portrayal. Instead, I was watching myself agonising over a fight with an ex, or watching a friend rationalise their partner’s controlling behaviour like it was normal. All In Your Head is a story about what happens when love is abused; when the stuffed bears and pink love hearts are nothing more than false gestures and empty promises. It was moving but honest. It was about nameless women, and yet it was deeply personal. It is certainly a story that will be in my head for a while to come.
Words by Becca Carey.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.