This isn’t a show I can really review because, structurally, it is multiple, repeated, and overlapping accounts of domestic violence. I’m not particularly interested in critiquing how “good” or “entertaining” this show was because I’d rather spend our time talking about why Lethal Indifference, and shows like it, are important and essential to our broader community.
If you, like me, have heard the stories, know the facts, and can rattle off statistics at the drop of a #notallmen, then this show will not surprise you. If you watch the news or spend any time on social media, this show will ring familiar to you, as well. But this show is true. Every day, this show is terrifyingly, petrifyingly, cruelly true.
On my way to the theatre, I was listening to the latest Call Your Girlfriend podcast, called “The Ladyweb”, about female socialising and social networks. In particular, the hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman interviewed Kayleen Schaefer about her book Text Me When You Get Home and what it means to have a female friendship in the age of the commodified Girl Squad and the #metoo movement, which exposed many men as seemingly surprised to learn that women talk to each other about the creeps, abusers, and assaulters in their lives. It’s a topic that’s close to my heart as someone who has always put a lot of effort into cultivating a ladyweb of my own and making sure the women around me feel secure and supported in their friendship with me. And, in a world that routinely denies women’s rights to safety and autonomy, these kinds of conversations, relationships, and networks matter and make a perceptible difference.
Which is what makes Anna Barnes’s use of language like “squad” and “buddy system” in Lethal Indifference as descriptions for the group of accomplices in a woman’s murder at the hands of her husband properly brutal. Instead of connoting support, security, safety, Ajay’s “buddy system”, made up of friends, colleagues, a private investigator, indifferent police people, and even the “good” guy in his wife Reema’s life, denied Reema safety over and over and over again before it ended with her murder. The main thread of the show is the reminder that Ajay, and others like him, couldn’t do it alone. They require the encouragement, assistance, and blind eyes to perpetuate threatening, abusive, and violent behaviour to the very end.
Like I said, Reema’s isn’t a new story. Neither are the stories of other unnamed victims and survivors Emily Barclay’s character recites throughout the performance. The script repeats and jumps forward and backwards between stories, clinging on to details because that’s what keeps the stories distinct, so you’re not lulled into thinking this is another story you’ve heard or the same one happening repeatedly to the same unfortunate soul. It is true that more than 1 woman a week is killed in Australia by domestic violence. It is true that you probably know women who have survived or are surviving domestic violence. You might also know some who didn’t. But the tidal wave of names and dates and stories should not deafen you. As shelters and resources are routinely defunded and closed, as White Ribbon Day morning teas are hosted by known abusers and everyone smiles their congratulatory $10-donation-difference smiles, women are dying and we must keep saying their names. Lethal Indifference is just one of the many ways we can keep the conversation going, keep the remembrances alive, and finally, finally do something about it.
I left the theatre last night scared but certainly not weakened.
Lethal Indifference at Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 Theatre runs February 23 – March 10.
Domestic Violence Line | 1800 656 463
Lifeline | 13 11 14