Conceived by Stacey Gregg & Deborah Pearson
The Jerwood Upstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS to 23 March 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 60 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000
Review: William Russell 5 March
Illuminating interaction with the criminal justice system
The women in prison movie all breasts and brutal warders having their wicked way with whoever took their fancy was once a staple of the soft porn cinema programme, although those days are over. But women behind bars remain a television staple. In the past there were the likes of the Australian soap cell Block H set in Wentworth Detention Centre and the later British Bad Girls set in South London’s Larkhall prison, which ran from 1999 to 2006.It had pretty well the same ingredients as the Australian show, differing from and the earlier British Within These Walls in that it focused more on the role of the Governor.
They were part of all our yesterdays, just as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and Channel 4’s Locked Up are part of our todays.
The plots of them all claimed to be life like it was with inmates good, bad and bizarre and prison officers of all ranks just as good, bad and bizarre plotting, fighting and getting up to all sorts of bad things. There was also Bad Girls the Musical, directed by a woman and written and composed by women, which had the usual ingredients of bullying persons, wrongly confined persons, sadistic male persons who abused those living there, and prison governors with ideals or without. Inside Bitch presented by members of Clean Break who are artists who have “experience of prison “or “have been to prison” is totally different.
To make sure nobody will be offended by the language one might use Clean Break issued a nice little check list of terms to avoid – thus ensuring one could not call a spade a spade. But no worries, one is happy to avoid the offence of “othering” which is to define people solely by one element of their history rather than by their potential.
The cast can be described as “women with lived experience of the Criminal Justice System” as this refers to “women both with past convictions, and without, who have had their lives directly affected by interaction with the criminal justice system.”
Inside Bitch is a roller coaster 60 minute show in which four women perform a series of scenes about life inside. They do so rather well, have appealing personalities and what they have to say is very funny, sometimes sad, always informative and was much appreciated by the press night audience many of whom clearly had inside knowledge judging by their hoots of delighted recognition.
Terms to avoid as far as prison staff and police are concerned are “screws, pigs, bulls, hacks, fuzz, rozzers and any other pejorative terms.” And as for the others, well no mention of “offenders, ex-offenders, prisoners, former prisoners, inmates, convicts, cons, lags and any other labelling terms referring to Clean Break’s Members” is permissable. The reason – these words are “othering” and define the Members solely by one element of their history rather than by their potential.
Having just attended a critics’ seminar on unconscious bias, although the evening was a challenge, this advice came as no surprise although it made it very difficult to know what to write with safety as they are not, I would imagine, ladies to cross other than to say that the cast and co-creators – Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small – are fine performers, know how to handle their audience and were unfazed by anything that went wrong. A curtain did not behave properly and nobody batted an eyelash.
Whether it does raise the issues they want to raise with total clarity is another matter, but it is an evening in the theatre like no other.
Cast & Co-Creators
Co-directors & Creators; Stacey Gregg & Deborah Pearson.
Designer: Camilla Clarke.
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers.
Sound Designer: Ella Wahlstrom.
Choreography: Yassmin V Foster.
Video Artist: Edie Morris.
Voice Coach: Emma Woodvine.