Women’s experiences of domestic and sexual violence will be dramatised in a West End theatre next week to “give voice” to survivors and highlight the scale of abuse.
“We all carry a lifetime of experiences – it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is,” said Sadie Frost, one of those performing in Punched.
The evening of short monologues and scenes based on survivors’ stories will raise funds for charities working around gender-based abuse.
Described as a homage to The Vagina Monologues, it is directed by Jude Kelly, and performers include Priyanga Burford, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Issy Knopfler and spoken-word poet Miss Yankey.
Annie Lennox will make an address via a film shot by Hollywood director Sam Taylor-Johnson, and Saffron Burrows has directed a short film with Marianne Jean-Baptiste in support of a South African rape crisis centre.
Punched came out of a conversation between actors Donna Air and Lorien Haynes. “We met to discuss writing a sitcom and by the end of the meeting we had created Punched,” said Air.
The pair were alarmed by the “shadow pandemic” of domestic abuse and violence during the Covid lockdowns. In March, the charity Refuge reported a 61% increase in calls to its helpline and other contacts in the previous year.
This month, the Office for National Statistics estimated that one in three women over the age of 16 were subjected to at least one form of harassment in the past year – a figure that increases to two in three for women aged 16 to 34.
“Dramatising these stories makes them powerful but also easier to witness and process,” said Haynes. “They are all under three minutes, and all self-contained stories of moments in women’s lives. A lot are stories of triumph.”
Haynes, a survivor of abuse, said writing and producing Punched “brings up all your own shit, but I’ve always felt it was important to see the bigger picture”.
Air said she had been overwhelmed by the response to The Split, a BBC drama in which she played a woman divorcing her controlling husband. “I was surprised how much it spoke to people. I had an enormous number of letters from people who had been feeling very isolated.”
Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues became a global sensation after it was first performed in New York in 1996. The producers of Punched hope that adaptations of their show may also eventually find audiences across the world.
Each story highlights a different aspect of gender-based violence, including rape, coercive control, sexual harassment and abuse of children.
Frost will perform in a two-hander adapted from a screenplay she is writing, featuring a mother and daughter. “It draws on my experiences and those of my friends, but it’s not about me,” she said.
There had been a “huge generational shift” in attitudes to domestic and sexual violence, Frost added. Women in their 40s and older had been expected to tolerate certain behaviours, said Air, whereas younger women had “much stronger voices, and put down much firmer boundaries”.
“It’s not a fancy theatre show, it’s very stripped back and no-frills,” said Air. All those producing and performing in the event have donated their time. “It won’t be a night of huge performances – it’s a night of being honest,” said Frost.
Punched: An Evening of Survivors’ Stories is at the Criterion Theatre in London on Monday 6 December.