‘This Wide Night’ was visceral.
In the aptly grimy and urban venue of BackDock Arts, A Moveable Theatre delivered a gut-wrenching and commandingly performed production of Chloe Moss’s women’s prison drama ‘This Wide Night’.
The script was born from Moss’s residency in HMP Cookham Wood, with its two compelling characters Marie and Lorraine drawn from stories and quotes of various inmates. The play premiered in London in 2008, and has since toured prisons and theatres across the UK. For this production, two scenes were workshopped with women at the Helana Jones Correctional Centre and support workers.
The play finds Marie and Lorraine “outside” having completed their sentences, but struggling to build new lives in a city and society that seems to have little interest in ex-cons. After forming a strong bond in prison, the two share an intense relationship, leading to communal tears, laughter and occasional violence. Marie is out first, and lets Lorraine stay at her bare-bones studio. From here, we learn of Marie’s struggles at her new job, Lorraine’s reconnection with her adult son, and the desires and fears of both women.
Bethany Scott’s lighting design was effectively clinical and unfussy, laying bare the unglamorous setting. The vertical lighting bar on the set further built this aesthetic, resembling an exposed pipe in the flat. Lighting changes in scenes of violence and intensity were also effective. The production certainly capitalised on the motif of television and audio static, overseen by Audio and Visual Designer Wayne McPhee and designer Michael Beh. This was a useful metaphor and scene changer, and the image of the women and set covered in projected static was arresting, caught as they are in a state of flux and transition.
The intensity of the performances and overall production built throughout the show, ultimately culminating in the fireworks of the second half. With choices in blocking and energy working towards this finish, director Michael Beh gave actors Shardé Anne and Julia Johnson the chance to erupt.
Committing to their cockney inflections, the pair largely bypassed the awkwardness that can come with an accent change, and dove into their characters.
Anne was energetic but focused as the unpredictable and sometimes jaded Marie. The character took a more central and varied role in the second half, where Anne’s performance was commanding. Her rampage against Lorraine was genuinely unexpected and frightening, as was her part-destruction of the set in a drunken fury. By the conclusion of the show, Lorraine was often tip-toeing around Marie, and for good reason. Anne’s Marie was supportive and soothing one moment, then vindictive and threatening the next. This duality in their relationship was well found, as their friendship flipped between necessary and toxic.
Johnson was compelling as Lorraine, portraying a mix of child-like positivity and playfulness, and suppressed violence and trauma. Lorraine’s nervous but hopeful preparation for her meeting with her estranged son was particularly touching. Playing the older and longer incarcerated ex-inmate, Johnson intelligently communicated optimism, confusion and struggle with adjusting to life after prison.
In its sparse set and intimate setting, A Moveable Theatre has created a production that is authentic and spirited. The performances, direction and technical elements treat ‘This Wide Night’s’ subjects with empathy and passion. The research and workshops by the playwright and by this production are clear in the show, and elevate what could be exploitative kitchen sink drama into a visceral and affecting character study.