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Theatre Review: Clean Break: 'This Wide Night' Words by James Cowan

Hello RR Gang,

So this week’s posting comes following my recent sojourn to watch Clean Breaks ‘This Wide Night’, at The Soho Theatre, and I’m smiling like the Cheshire Cat coz it was top draw folks!!

The evening did start rather ominously for me though. I have been to the Studio at Soho before; in fact I have performed here before. A little over a year ago I was here to showcase my talents to the London industry bigwigs and desperately vie for their attention, love and support. So you can understand that the very notion of being here filled me nostalgia and nerves, two of the prominent themes of the play I was there to see – funny that.

Clean Break Theatre Company are one of a few companies that work within the UK’s criminal justice system using theatre to rehabilitate and educate those involved (and not involved, such as myself). It was set up in the 70’s by two female convicts who began to bring the secrets of imprisoned women to a wider audience. Thirty years on they are still going strong with what was a remarkably intriguing piece about two former offending women and the delicate freedom that they now tentatively possess.

When Lorraine, played by an outstanding Maureen Beattie, is released from prison, she heads straight to Marie’s, her old cellmate and only friend. She is seemingly not welcome, as a hard and aggressive Marie informs her that her ‘Studio’ is in fact a bed-sit with a trendy name, and therefore too small for the both of them. This does not however put off Lorraine and the play proceeds as a discussion of the struggle to readjust to life outside and the changed nature of their almost maternal relationship.

Now if this sounds all a bit too heavy for you kids then let me reassure you that it is in fact incredibly funny. It is a beautifully written piece, both subtle and strong. Chloe Moss is a young writer yet she transfers great maturity, modesty and understanding into this piece. I was fortunate enough to meet Chloe after the show and she remarked that the first-hand research that she spent completing at HMP Cookham Wood was an experience that left her brimming with ideas and memories that she will not forget. Having said that this is not a piece that tries to shove to much upon it’s audience, it is simple; with only one set and two characters.

The set is stark and formidable, lit by a cold, harsh blue light that reminds one of an institution, like a hospital, a school, and unsurprisingly a prison. The atmosphere was set before anyone walked on stage. However once the stage did come alive, well, that was when the fun began!

To be frank I was a bit blown away by Beattie’s Lorraine, she was hilarious, vulnerable, remorseful and frightening, and all wonderfully brought to life by her beautiful native Scottish accent. (I really do believe that there is no better accent to swear in!!). In fact she was so impressive that she dominated the attention from Zawe Ashton (Marie) a little too much. Ashton is clearly a good actor but unfortunately I felt that Marie had no emotional journey, she was intimidating from the word go and this bravado wasn’t dropped until the final 5 minutes by which point I felt little empathy for her. Having said this we do see a tinkling of vulnerability at times from Marie but I needed more to really care.
In all this was a fantastic production, with the harsh reality of life after incarceration being shown as unavoidable, difficult and lonely.

I left ‘This Wide Night’ feeling as though I was being released myself, not only from the entangled mental prison of Lorraine and Marie, but also from my own rather less harrowing memories of trying to make it in the big wide world. It reminded me of my comparative luck and gave me hope.

I would advise you all go and see it before it ends this week, it will inform you and entertain you and the fantastic people at Clean Break need all the support they can muster so they can continue their important work.

Peace people,

James x

This Wide Night

Photo credit
: Sheila Burnett

Image 1:
Zawe Ashton
Maureen Beattie

Image 2:
Foreground: Zawe Ashton as Marie
Background: Maureen Beattie as Lorraine

Image 3: (left to right)
Foreground: Zawe Ashton as Marie
Background: Maureen Beattie as Lorraine

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