Book by Maureen Chadwick & Ann McManus.
Music & Lyrics by Kath Gotts.
Based on the television series by Chadwick and McManus.
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 4BD to 3 March 2019.
Tues-Say 7.30pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8340 3488.
Review: William Russell 17 February.
Caged Birds singing
Sometimes one is taken by surprise. The ITV series on which this is based and which ran from 1999 to 2006 completely passed me by, partly because it is not the sort of programme I would dream of watching, partly because it went out at the wrong time for me. A musical on life in a South London women’s prison sounded like something to avoid, but surprise, surprise it is actually rather good.
The score is tuneful, there are several very decent songs, which is rare, director Rebecca Eastham has done a first rate job and a strong cast of women who can sing has been put together. The book is no great shakes being a pretty predictable mixture of what you would expect the wrongly in there, the bad, the devious and the completely immoral to get up to in the circumstances. Things are complicated by the fact that Helen Stewart (Bella Bowen), the governor of the wing at Larkhall prison, has new ideas and falls foul of the resident screws Jim Fenner (Alexander Forster), who likes to exercise droit de seigneur on all who take his fancy, and his sidekick Sylvia (Carol Sharp), a nasty old soul with a bad back and a liking for Jim that goes beyond the maternal. They plot to bring Stewart’s regime to an end, while she tries to ensure Nikki Wade, a lesbian in for murdering a policeman who was raping her girlfriend, has her case reviewed.
There is a bossy blowsy horror who services Fenner, a pair of pragmatic prostitutes, one of whom has a son who does not know about how mummy earns the school fees, a bible punching born again sister, a raunchy gang boss’s wife who gets airmail mail, and the inevitable sweet, simple soul with a baby in care who gets raped by Fenner and hangs herself. To top it all the Number One man is a mason, as is Fenner, so it is a case of boys looking after boys, while Stewart turns out to be a lesbian who has fallen for Wade.
Whether that is what life is like in women’s prisons is anybody’s guess although the TV series may have had some serious intent to show us like it horribly is. But while peculiar material for a song and dance show the songs are good, the set – panels of prison bars which the cast move round – works a treat, and the cast give the material their very considerable all starting with a terrific lament that they “shouldn’t be here,” by way of a tremendous anthem “Freedom Road” and a very funny one about being “all banged up.” The women are splendid, Benjamin Connor rather touching as the decent screw who fancies Helen in vain, and Alexander Forster suffers some amazing indignities when the tables are finally turned.
It isn’t the greatest show on earth, and the scene where two ladies hold porcelain urinals so that Number One and Fenner can do what men do at times of need – have a private chat – does rather take the breath away. as does the sight of Mr Foster in his smalls handcuffed to a bed. But it is what it is, a skillfully directed, well performed, tuneful and entertaining two hours whether or not, and it my case it did not, it brings back memories of the TV series
Shell Dockley: Nicole Faraday.
Julie Saunders: Lucyelle Cliffe.
Nikki Wade: Rebecca Eastham.
Helen Stewart: Bella Bowen.
Denny Blood: Jade Marvin.
Justin Mattison: Benjamin Connor.
Jim Fenner: Alexander Forster.
Number One: Tony Sharp.
Sylbvua “Bobybag” Holliamby: Carol Sharp
Julie Johnston: Anna Middlemass.
Crystal Gordon: Alex-May Roberts.
Yvonne Atkins: Hayley-Jo Whitney.
Noreen Biggs: Vicki York.
Rachel Hicks: Megan Jobling.
Director: Rebecca Eastham.
Musical Director: Ben David Papworth.
Orchestrator: Martin Koch.
Set & Lighting Designer: Andrew Exeter.
Costume Designer: R.A.B. Productions.
Production Photographer: Lidia Crisapulli.