Hard Evidence is a theatre piece written and performed by Shass Blake and Alison Prince. It follows the story of two friends, Jan and Christine, who both have experience of domestic abuse, but are at different points in their journey to finding support. It shines light on how involvement in research influenced their individual journeys and empowered them to start helping others

Alison and Shass met whilst taking part in the coMforT research study. coMforT developed and pilot tested a trauma-specific mindfulness course for women with experience of domestic abuse and post-traumatic stress. The study, led by Dr Natalia Lewis, worked with an advisory group of six women with lived experience of domestic abuse who supported to plan, deliver, analyse, and disseminate study findings.

The play was the brainchild of Noreen Kelly, Research Fellow in Patient and Public Involvement at the University of the West of England and the National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC). Having seen their plays in the past, Noreen approached acta community theatre to see if they would be interested in developing a play based on the experiences of the women involved in the coMforT study. Luckily, Shass and Alison were keen to use their experiences to help others in a similar situation.

The piece premiered at acta on 9 and 12 November and was enjoyed by over 120 people. Those who attended expressed how thought provoking, heartfelt, touching and important the piece is. Specifically, how using real experiences and working directly with survivors gave an authenticity that perhaps wouldn’t have come from working with professional actors. In some of the audience feedback they went on to say:

“I loved the chemistry between the two leads, you could feel the emotions behind the story.”

“It was really positive seeing the journey of the two survivors.”

“The movement pieces were so expressive and the conversation between characters felt genuine. It’s great how much research is being done on domestic abuse!”

Attendees also praised the play for focussing on positive messages such as friendship and support networks rather than retelling traumatic experiences or “doom and gloom”. They felt this approach allowed the show to put across an important message and raise awareness of financial control without sensationalising the topic. Some audience members hoped the play could reach a wider audience. Some said they’d like to see it toured elsewhere, perhaps working with other groups of women with lived experience to highlight others’ experiences.

In the post-show Q&A both Shass and Alison highlighted how important it is for researchers to act with patience and be attentive to the different needs of participants when conducting patient and public involvement in domestic abuse research. They both continue to take part in studies and have quoted it as being a very important part of their journey.

The performance is now available as a recording which you can view in full below.