This Wide Night was commissioned by Clean Break, an organisation founded in 1979 by two women prisoners that deliver drama-based education, personal development and advocacy services to women prisoners and ex-offenders.
The play opened with Marie (played by Cathy Owen) sitting in her bedsit watching television, when a knock on the door brought in a piece of her recent past: her best friend in prison, Lorraine (Jan Pearson). It was obvious from the opening lines that their relationship had changed. The transition from prison to freedom had made both women see everything in a different light, not least who they were and where they wanted to be.
Marie’s bedsit, with just the necessary furniture to live adequately with no extra comforts, mirrored her life. Lorraine seemed to be in a much worse position – we never saw the hostel room she had been given.
There were no set changes during the play and no other characters; this contributed to the feelings of loneliness and isolation that both women endured. The room itself became a focal point. Both women wanted a piece of it and although there was a symbolic significance to this, it was also tied to the reality of most women leaving prison: they would all like a safe place to stay. However, not all of them gain that.
Playwright Chloe Moss’s characters were both true to life. At the beginning of the play they appeared to adhere to a stereotypical view of what ex-prisoners may be like. However, as the story unfolded their characters were explored in great depth. As much as their time in prison had greatly affected and traumatised both, it did not define them.
Actresses Cathy Owen and Jan Pearson stayed true to this ethic. The characters and their situation were very well researched and studied and it was obvious from their performances they understood who these women were, as well as what their relationship was. At no point did their characters seem unreal, or their emotions forced. Their stage relationship was very strong, and there was no doubt that these characters shared a very close bond.
Lucy Morrison, Clean Break’s head of new writing and director of this production, paced the performance well and avoided any melodrama, concentrating instead on showing us a fly-on-the-wall view of their lives.
Overall, this was a great piece of theatre with a perfect balance between being political and creating art.
Naoko Skiada is a worker at Women in Prison’s Through the Gate project has a performing arts background
The play moves to the Drum Theatre, Plymouth, for 23–27 September (01752 267222).