Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Key Change, reviewed by The Scotsman’s David Pollock.
Work created through consultation with incarcerated prisoners is probably, let’s face it, a ripe area for funding approval, and companies like Clean Break are the most high-profile of those who have explored the potential of the subject previously. To this group we can now add Newcastle’s Open Clasp, which creates theatre from a female perspective, and which has worked on this new production with Northern Stage. We can, in fact, add them to the upper ranks of the genre, for this is a tale told with kinetic honesty and tightly controlled tenderness.
Devised by the women of HMPYOI Low Newton near Durham, with the assistance of playwright Catrina McHugh and the cast, it places four women with subtly different experiences of the prison system and their route into it within necessarily close range of one another. Bickering as they mark out their small, cell-like portion of the stage in bands of masking tape, they come to bond, fight and ultimately pick away at our probably limited understanding of just how mercilessly poverty, hopelessness and desperation can grind a soul into the gutter.
The actors shine, whether ripping each other to bits in sharply humorous Geordie tones or slipping into short but spine-tingling balletic sequences, each an oasis amidst the barking and pitiful sniffing around for “gear”. The piece makes no bones about the fact that men are, if not the problem, then certainly a big part of it.
While the incidents are touched on chillingly but not dwelled on in the piece, it’s worth remembering McHugh’s statistics in her written introduction: “Over 50 per cent of women in prison report having suffered domestic abuse, one in three has suffered sexual abuse and nearly 40 per cent of women leave prison homeless.” Yet there is humour and humanity here too, and the slow, heart-crushing poignancy of trying to mother failing children from afar when the phones don’t even work.
Summerhall (Venue 26) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 12 August 2015
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