Belfast playwright Julie Dutkiewicz’s new play, #Honest35, comes to the Black Box this November for two shows. The hard-hitting tale of domestic abuse has been written to coincide with Women’s Aid 40th anniversary and the upcoming 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
Julie was inspired to write the black tragicomedy following a fateful meeting with a stranger and survivor of domestic abuse.
The writer had just been commissioned by Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland to pen a new play on the subject of domestic abuse, when she was approached by an unknown woman who began to share her story with her.
The stranger’s account of her horrendous treatment by an alcoholic and abusive ex husband became the basis for Julie’s play #Honest35, which will be staged at the Black Box in Belfast on November 26 and 27.
Julie was sitting in the grounds of the City Hall during the summer, reading promotional material about the work of Women’s Aid, when the woman approached her. She asked Julie if she worked for the charity and when the writer explained she was researching for a play, the woman asked Julie if she could share her story with her. What unfolded over the next two and a half hours became the basis for #Honest35.
“The play is about Cora, a survivor of domestic abuse who comes through Women’s Aid,” Julie explains. “We see her at three different stages of her life, aged 25, 45 and 65 and the play is an insight into who she was before the abuse happened, what happened and who she became.
“I’d just been to meet with Women’s Aid and it was a boiling hot day so I went and sat at the City Hall to read the leaflets they’d given me. That’s when this woman came up to me and when I told her what I was doing, she asked me if she could tell me her own story of domestic violence.
“She never told me her name and I didn’t get her number but I sat and listened to this brave woman tell me just what all she’d been through and I knew I had to write it for her. I’m convinced that I was meant to meet this woman that day.
“She inspired the character in #Honest35. It’s a story about survival and how this woman used humour and banter to survive and to deal with what she’d been through. Ultimately I want this play to be a celebration.”
While the woman’s story was shocking, she also made it clear to Julie that she was a survivor.
“As a writer I want to get across the awful effects of domestic violence but I also want to show how brave she was too. I came away from her feeling brighter because she was so brave. I knew then I wanted to write a Belfast story about how someone can survive horrific things.
“I think our humour here tends to be quite dark. It has a lot to do with Belfast, as a city, and what we’ve experienced. It’s how we connect with people. We laugh at ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in and to be able to do that is brave. There were moments she told me about that were very frightening but then she’d laugh at those moments. That was her mode of survival.
“One experience which I just had to put into the play was how she kept a wind chime in her bedroom. Her husband was an alcoholic and when he’d been out drinking and had come home from the pub, she would hear the wind chime when she was asleep. This meant she could make herself ready for what was to come.”
Julie says that although the story is based on the experiences of the stranger, it is really the story of thousands of women who’ve come through the doors of Women’s Aid.
“I added the figure 35 to the title as on average, it takes 35 incidents of domestic abuse before it is reported to the police,” she says.
“Domestic violence is a huge problem that can’t be ignored. I don’t want to sensationalise these stories. I don’t want to write something just for the shock value,” she says. “This woman who told me her story – all these women who have shared their stories with Women’s Aid – have to be treated respectfully. I have a responsibility to them.”
#Honest35 will run at the Black Box on November 26 and 27
If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence or abuse, the 24 hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline is open 365 days a year to support all women and men. Call the free confidential Helpline on 0808 802 1414, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text support to 07797 805 839.