Never Vera Blue is a brave and commendable production, which interrogates the effects of gaslighting in an emotionally abusive relationship. Laura Dos Santos delivers an arresting performance as the protagonist, referred to only as ‘Woman’, who constantly tries to assert her version of events across three complementary strands of imagery. One is her own story, of living with her family (including her plants); the second is the story of a soldier hunkering down in a cave, reminiscent of Plato; the third is of Red Riding Hood, fighting for survival whilst being digested in the guts of the wolf. However, in the telling of these fragmentary threads, the Woman reveals how uncertain and self – doubting she has become.
Wood’s script is a meta and self-aware treatment of the gaslighting process, which is a huge achievement.
The set of Never Vera Blue is spartan and bare; most of Dos Santos’ performance takes place upon a large oval rug and beneath a giant lamp reminiscent of an office lamp. Directed by Caroline Bryant and designed by Futures Theatre and Flair May, there is an effective feeling of Dos Santos being swallowed by the space she is in, of being dwarfed by household objects as she attempts to quantify what is real and what is not.
Devised from conversations with survivors of domestic abuse, Alexandra Wood’s script confidently straddles the imagery of a fairy tale, a war, and domesticity, to hammer home a singular point: uncertainty and self – doubt is a form of controlling others. The script’s structure is ambitious, but when knitting together the complexity of the images, the script can sometimes seem uncertain of itself. The through-lines of the stories clash, and often seem confused or meandering. However, Dos Santos’ resolute performance convincingly steers an uncertain audience through these moments. These moments of narrative uncertainty could be a deliberate ploy by Wood to illustrate how pervasive gaslighting is – if so, Wood’s script is a meta and self-aware treatment of the gaslighting process, which is a huge achievement.
Dos Santos’ movement around the space is expressive and holds focus. In a play which is so concerned about quantifying the self, her anxiety is as much a physical performance as a vocal one. Lighting transitions sometimes do not distinguish which ‘world’ the audience is in, and the audience becomes reliant on Dos Santos to illustrate where we are on the narrative timeline – this can take some time. Again, this could be a deliberate choice by the creative team, to perplex and obfuscate in precisely the same way the Woman’s abusive husband has done for years.
Never Vera Blue is creative with form and is regularly convincing. It can at times feel overly discursive and transitions could be more pronounced to ensure the audience feel connected to the script. However, the performance delivers on its important mission statement, to provide a piece of artwork that interrogates and explores the gaslighting process.