Review: A Woman Inside @ Etcetera Theatre

A Woman Inside, written and directed by Sophie Besse, is set in a woman’s prison where we meet two inmates, Barbara and Sharon, who couldn’t be any more different to each other. Barbara is chatty and open while Sharon is broody and disturbed. They both share a cell and we witness the dynamics between both characters as well as between both characters and the prison guards. We also get to know both women as the play progresses and, in time honoured tradition, neither is what they first seemed to us. It is an intense drama and the intensity is made much more acute by the intimate size and space of Etcetera Theatre. Striking the right balance, the bristly subject matter of the play is peppered with some comic moments.

For a play that only spans 60 minutes, it remarkably packs in a lot which is credit to the sharp writing. We go from winter to summer in one sitting but it never feels as if we’ve been forced to sprint through the despair and hope experienced by the characters. Credit must also go to the creative direction which makes best use of the space, austere set and sound to convey this absorbing play. One scene, which has left an indelible impression on my mind, uses mask and mime to portray indignity in a way that the human voice would struggle to achieve. It is worth pointing out here that Ms Besse is a clinical psychologist who has spent five years working with female inmates which gives the play the credibility factor.

The acting throughout the play is energetic and well executed. Carrie Rock’s Barbara is an expressive portrayal, displaying a combination of tenderness, anxiety and fear via both spoken and unspoken forms. Tracy Radzan gives us a Sharon who shows flashes of her disturbed mental state as well as the vulnerability that underlies the fortress that she has built around herself. Barbara has a 9 year old daughter who visits her mother in prison. It’s always a mixed bag with children’s parts in plays but the direction here gets the best out of the role – one that is shared by several child actresses. That said, I did worry about the impact of a play such as this on a young child.

There are a few things that aren’t wholly satisfying in the play. There is no sense from either Barbara or Sharon if they regretted the crimes they have committed. There is a lot of focus on prison life and its impact on the characters but no consideration shown to the victims of crime. I am also unsure about the ending. But, given the time restraint and the depth of the material as a whole, these niggles can be overlooked. Overall, it won’t always feel easy to sit through this play but it does give us a window into a world rarely glimpsed by most of us.

Until 6 May 2012.
Written and directed by Sophie Besse.
Performance time is 60 minutes.

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