BATS Theatre
March 31-April 9 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Dolores deals with dual themes of domestic violence and the tension in a sibling relationship in adulthood. Sandra is enjoying her day off, rocking out to Pat Benatar and relishing small treats like a magazine and cupcakes. The arrival of her sister Dolores, with a black eye from the latest in a long line of abusive husbands, is a totally unwelcome intrusion on her ordered life – as well as what she sacrifices to achieve it.

The play takes place in Sandra’s kitchen – an area of the home traditionally designated as the women’s space and the ‘heart’ of the home. Although it’s a convincing and detailed kitchen, the design creates odd eye lines – I wished I was sitting on the other side of the theatre so as to see the expressions of the actresses better. Also, the ladder and other large objects in the background were never used, referred to or explained.

A play this emotionally charged is going to rest ultimately on the quality of the acting. In this regard, Renee Sheridan (Sandra) and Barbara Woods (Dolores) handle the comedy of the sibling relationship well and have been directed to keep the pace up in these scenes. However, the more serious side of the play is handled less well, especially following Dolores’s big reveal – although this could be partially attributable to faults in the writing – even for a one act play the transitions are a little too abrupt. I also had difficulty placing the characters based on their accents – Sheridan started with a solid Jersey working class accent, but lapsed occasionally into sounding like a Southern belle; Woods sounded like she just returned to the States from a long stay in New Zealand. What both actresses do achieve though is the sense that, although far from happy with their lot, they can’t see a way to change it. Sandra’s resignation is matter of fact, her sister’s is more helpless.

Although I understand the decision to be true to the script (written in 1985 according to the author’s webpage), I felt this play would have been better set here and now – domestic violence is a local problem, and the play could have had a lot more impact had we not been listening to the actresses struggle with accents, or distracted by 80s clothing and music. It’s a highly current issue here – New Zealand currently has legislation before Parliament to strengthen the on the spot powers of Police in cases of domestic violence – although the potential detriment the exercise of these powers could have on families has been noted and it has been debated whether this will exacerbate or diffuse tense situations. I felt the local resonance could have been emphasised – and it would only have required minor changes to the script.

Overall, the play is a short insight into the working class mentality over these kinds of issues – as opposed to the bleeding heart liberal view so often portrayed in the theatre. In this regard the play is enjoyable and illustrative. It’s only about 40 minutes long, and leaves you with the impression that Dolores’s problems – like the problem of domestic violence itself – are not going to be solved easily.