The Repulsive Woman by Christopher Reason

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 27 February 2009
This two-hander based on current events centred on Debbie (Maxine Peake), a single mother with six children by five different fathers, who had been imprisoned for permitting her young daughter Page to be displayed online in her underwear for profit. The story caused considerable scandal, with many newspapers denouncing her as a "repulsive woman" for contemplating such an idea. How could she be considered fit to look after children? She deserved nothing less than hanging. Such were the kind of headlines written about the story.
As the play began Debbie was being interviewed by her liberal-minded probation officer Anthony (Neil Dudgeon), who tried to find out why she behaved as she did, in the hope of constructing a coherent defence in court. The task was not easy: Debbie's response contained equal measures of bravado and self-justifying whinges. It wasn't her fault really - all she was trying to do was support her family at a time of economic crisis. If anything the welfare state should take the blame, as it was they who provided her with a computer in the first place. In Debbie's view the whole shemozzle was "nowt;" a game that Page had willingly consented to play.
Faced with this kind of person, Anthony adopted another tack; rather than trying to discover why she behaved as she did, he tried to find out more about Debbie herself. In a fascinating series of verbal thrusts and parries, we learned how she drifted from relationship to relationship in a vain search for emotional security. Finding none, she opted to live with a down-and-out, buoying herself up with regular heroin shots. Life had passed her by; she felt that no one wanted her, and she had to manage on her own with only cigarettes and drugs for company. More damagingly, we learned how she had been exposed to regular sexual abuse from her father, who had first raped her when she was no more than eleven years old. This remained a closely guarded secret; not only did she feel ashamed for what happened, but she tried to absolve her father of blame. He had grown up in a children's home where such behaviour was considered normal. The only way Debbie could cope with such experiences was to construct a protective wall around herself, in which no one took the blame for anything. The play ended with her vainly pleading with Anthony to "swing it" for her in court in the face of the evidence against her.
The Repulsive Woman dealt with familiar material, but was nonetheless profoundly disturbing in its impact. Maybe Debbie was right; how could we censure her behaviour when society treated her in such a callous manner? Maybe we should be better advised to understand her - which is precisely what Christopher Reason tried to do. The two actors - Peake and Dudgeon - fought a series of verbal battles; the only sad thing was that there was neither going to be a winner, nor any agreement forged between the two. Debbie was guilty as charged, whatever she said. The director was Stefan Escreet.