This Wide Night
Clean Break Theatre Company
Recently, Maria Eagle, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, pontificated on the fact that there are too many vulnerable women in prisons and some could easily be 'rehabilitated into the community.'
This Wide Night, presented by Clean Break Theatre Company, shows you exactly what happens to two such women, and starkly illustrates the lack of care and support for women trying to make it back in society.
Lorraine (Jan Pearson), a 50-year old woman, arrives one night and knocks on the door of her friend, Marie (Cathy Owen).
"Your phone don't work no more Been worried about yer," she explains.
They had shared a cell and were good mates inside, and without anything being said, it's clear that she needs a bed for the night.
The play, written by Chloe Moss following a residency at HMP Cookham Wood, avoids preaching and unravels gradually over the shared intimacy in a small studio flat, where 30-year old Marie has been trying to get to grips with surviving on the outside. We don't know how, but can only guess. Lorraine's sudden arrival disorients her.
Slowly, with humour and pathos, we get to know the women a bit better, as they go through the mundane rituals of life. Pearson excels as this slightly overweight middle-aged nervous woman with glasses and straggly hair, and a great sense of self-deprecating humour.
She may now be enjoying her freedom, but as she puts it, still has to deal with the system. "I got to sign in, haven't I?... You wouldn't think I'm a free woman, would yer?"
Owen, a good looking brunette with an outwardly harder edge is the more vulnerable figure. The entire play is set in the interior of the flat, and we see the women have a shower, open the sofa bed, sleep, read, eat, fold the sofa bed back into a settee.
Through these ordinary chores, the play explores the ephemeral and fragile nature of freedom. Although they are now outside, Marie fears the sound of the door bell and it's not just because she's avoiding her landlord.
She later reveals that she missed life in prison. "I'm sorry I stopped coming in. I hated it. I hated it mostly because I sort of missed it." We do learn that she'd been inside for three years, and Lorraine served twelve years for killing her husband.
Meanwhile Lorraine wants to see her son, Ben, again. She's written to him from prison and a meeting is set up.
However, the play is really about the relationship between the two women -- they bicker, they reminisce, they cuss, share secrets, lie to each other and ultimately care for each other.
This raw and illuminating slice of life drama about coping with life after prison continues Clean Break's commitment to using "theatre for personal and political change, working with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system."
Perhaps the Justice Minister will be able to see it as it tours this autumn.
The performance reviewed was at the Soho Theatre. It is now on tour: 17 - 18 September, 2008, Live Theatre, Newcastle (Box Office 0191 232 1232); 23 - 27 September, 2008, Drum Theatre, Plymouth (Box Office 01752 267222) Performances at women's prisons take place from 29 September - 10 October, 2008. See website for details.
Reviewer: Suman Bhuchar