The Space Between Us

Catrina McHugh
Open Clasp Theatre Company
Live Theatre, Newcastle

The Space Between Us

I can’t pretend I like everything about this show. Unless you’re a Beckett or a Sartre, the device of plonking four people into a trapped space can appear a bit theatre workshoppy. Occasionally the cast talk too fast, and there are odd ‘stagey’ moments where the play seems to stop to deliver its message.

But that’s the risk of issue-based theatre and it’s a risk worth taking when you’re Open Clasp. They’re a breath of fresh air, a woman’s theatre company in a traditionally male area, taking on ethnic diversity matters in a region only slowly yawning itself awake to the idea of a multicultural society. Open Clasp’s plays are created out of close collaboration with different groups of women, but the writer still gets space to write—not always the case.

A biblical storm has gripped the north east. Four separate women seek refuge from the floods in a church. Though greatly different, the women are all ‘outsiders’, refugees, asylum seekers, or otherwise marginalised. Eman (Seda Yildiz) a traditional Muslim from Syria, Eyshan (Ioana Tudor) a Czech Romany, Cheyanne (Jessica Johnson), a Smoggy (Teessider) gypsy, and the wonderfully named Joana Geronimo as Zeyna, the Nigerian Muslim bearing a heavy personal secret.

Outside, thunder flashes and the waters continue to rise as the quartet attempt to deal with firstly the external and then the internal problems. Catrina McHugh’s strong script takes its time finding its natural rhythm, and early on seems most at home with the ebullient Cheyanne, the native North-Easterner, but when the writing has finally laid out its wares, the other three women slowly gain a foothold.

The play tosses into the ring various telling cultural / religious observations not found in Daily Mail editorials before settling dramatically on two pivotal events; some missing money (which woman took it?) and the revelation that Zeyna is not only Muslim but also lesbian, a combination whose potentially profound consequences the piece never ducks.

Iona Tudor’s simple yet impassioned horror at this state of affairs shows the writing (and the acting) at its bravest.

And though the four women at times bare their teeth, there is also humour in Charlotte Bennett’s production which attempts to bring movement, visuals and sound to a potentially static setting, (though I’m unsure why all four women end up wearing wedding gear).

Lydia Denno’s simple set is dominated by a large illuminated crucifix, adding to the biblical sense of après la deluge, though I sensed more could be made of the deluvian metaphor.

Although its roots are deep in this region, Open Clasp’s work is far-removed from Geordie theatre. It shows a grass roots radicalism and genuine commitment, coupled with professionalism; reasons enough to justify the recent large funding injection from the Arts Council.

Reviewer: Peter Mortimer