‘It happens in gay relationships too’: the story behind a domestic violence cabaret | Stage

Russ Vickery may claim that he’s “no Frank Sinatra”, but he can certainly hold a tune – and to sing brings him an unfettered kind of joy. It’s not uncommon to find him singing along to hold music on the phone, or in a crowded lift, but when he met Greg*, things changed.

But during their relationship, the once exuberant Russ never sang, except to soothe himself, alone.

Greg and Russ met after Russ had divorced his wife of 17 years, the mother of his three kids. Although he knew from his teens that he probably wasn’t straight, Russ felt that he could make things work with his wife. By the time they split and he finally came out, he was 42 years old.

Things with Greg started wonderfully. “None of this starts on day one, because you wouldn’t get into a relationship like that on day one,” Russ explains. Although it took six months before the physical violence began, the signs had been there before that.

Greg began controlling Russ, finding small ways to maintain power over him; he slowly began distancing Russ from his closest friends and would send him bouquets of flowers “just to tell me he knew where I was”.

Russ felt torn and confused, unsure if this was simply what to expect in a relationship between men. “I kept on being told that when you have two blokes together, arguments turn physical. I had no barometer,” he says. “I figured this was what it was like.” Deep down, he knew it wasn’t right, but he “needed the relationship to work”.

“In my situation – I’ve just come out of a marriage, I’ve got three kids, I’ve put my hand up to the whole of society saying this is what I am – and all of a sudden, it’s a terrible relationship. The last thing you want to do is go, ‘Oops, hang on, I made a mistake’, because you’re sitting there thinking everyone’s going to say, ‘See? Gay relationships are terrible. You shouldn’t be in them.’”

Russ wasn’t aware that intimate partner violence was an issue in…

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