Premiere power

The Wide Night (A Moveable Theatre)

BackDock Arts

February 18 – March 7

A 100-minute show can be arduous for a two-hander and though the performers in Chloë Moss’s “This Wide Night” do an outstanding job in presenting a tender portrayal of two women trying to start again, the play is still hard work, especially as it is until interval before hinted-at narrative threads of the drama about two women trying to start their lives over again after their release from prison, really begin to tapestry together. That is not to say, however, that it is a commitment without reward.

On her release from prison, Lorraine (Julia Johnson) heads straight to her ‘little mate’ Marie’s (Shardé Anne). On the inside they used to share everything, but the friendship that once protected them now threatens to smother the fragile freedom they have found. Moss’s script never gives too much away. The writing is quite Beckettesque in its outlook on existence and experience, settling on small things and leaving the audience to infer the bigger concerns. The textured script is full of evasive early discussions and long pauses stretch out the space between more memorable scenes like Marie’s recollection of her heartbreaking growing-up raindrop racing game. And while the younger Marie seems to be more world-wise and seemingly stronger than the older Lorraine, appearances can be deceptive and things swiftly deteriorate in Act Two.

BackDock Arts’ theatre, the venue of the play’s Queensland Premiere, is an inescapably intimate location that is easily transformed into the shabby-without-the-chic setting staging of Marie’s messy bedsit (design by director Michael Beh), a room that becomes an enlarged version of the prison cell the women once shared. This suits the more-talk-than-action conversational realism style of show, yet still allows for the easy projection of images of women along with television static to signal play transitions.

The British play, which premiered in 2008 by Clean Break at Soho Theatre before a National Tour of theatres and Women’s Prisons, contains little real action, but, rather exists as a character study of two women, their relationship and how while they are not defined by their crimes, neither can they escape them. As such it unfolds as a story of the sense of isolation that they share and the vulnerability that this engenders. And it is in this, that the performers are able to excel, especially as the play finds its emotional strength after interval and we really come to appreciate the co-dependence that their isolation has instigated.

Johnson and Anne are equally excellent in their complex roles, encapsulating the ebbs and flows of the inter-dependence that comes from their shared sense of being strangers to society. Anne is compelling in her wide-eyed emotions and Johnson allows the audience space to sit in the trauma alongside her, especially as she describes the coat her son was wearing before being taken away, as part of her cling to hope that the now grown-up boy once given up for adoption will want to see her.

Characterisation calls for regional accents, that are well maintained, although initially a little distracting. Along with quintessentially British ‘innit’ idioms and references of the Greggs and Marks & Spencers sort, these set the story firmly in its origins (Chloe Moss based the work on women she met during a volunteering stint at Her Majesty’s Prison in the UK). However, given the universality of its themes, one wonders if they are necessary.

Not all questions are answered in this grim but poignant slice-of-life snapshot of the women’s stories. “This Wide Night” does, however, leave audience members with some serious contemplations. “If you shouted in space, even if someone was standing right next to you they wouldn’t be able to hear you,” Marie, for example, relays from a reference book Lorraine likes to read by torchlight before bed. It’s an almost throw-away line late in Act Two, however, it is a very powerful one given the work’s clear message about the isolation of prison not ending upon one’s release.

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