THIS WIDE NIGHT
by Chloë Moss.
Soho Theatre 221 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 5 December 2009.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 December.
Ashton ace and Beattie brilliant in Moss’s Category A drama.
Another new play made up of multiple short scenes. But Chloë Moss uses the apparently televisual format with a theatrical richness in a carefully unfolding sequence far beyond mere flinging together of episodic incidents.
Its fragmentary nature expresses the relationship between older Lorraine and younger Marie, both out of prison (Moss mentions HMP Cookham Wood, where she held a three month playwriting residency) and meeting up without the prison confines that gave their relationship its structure.
Yet Marie’s current “studio” living-space (a euphemism, she’s aware, for “bedsit”) is like a cell. Outside seems perpetually bleak and rainy, while both women keep rushing back, hammering on the door for escape from the outer world.
A bruising world – literally for Marie, whose source of income is shadowy and suspect. Her default mood is defiance, covering awkwardness, as Zawe Ashton shows from the opening moments clutching her skirt, through frequent fidgeting and turning her head away as she speaks to Lorraine.
Maureen Beattie invests Lorraine with superficial cheer and optimism, a thin cover for her own insecurities. But both performances, in Lucy Morrison’s production for Clean Break theatre company (founded in 1979 by women ex-prisoners), reveal these characters’ complexities, evasions, self-deceptions, small despairs and the human hopes that keep them going.
Beneath Lorraine’s smiles lies the depth of feeling shown in her vehement triumph at the prospect of meeting her grown-up teacher son; innate kindness and embarrassment sit behind Marie’s defiant defence mechanisms.
There are moments of humour too; when sharing a divan, Lorraine ensures her host doesn’t mind her keeping a light on to read before sleeping – then starts reading aloud. There’s a later moment of lightness as they play a childish prison game, a sign of a life not quite left behind them. And there’s the occasional piece of shocking information, always deepening character, never for sensational impact.
Moss writes that the best performances for her have been those in prisons, where many elements may well be more acutely, and quite differently, felt than in the comfort of the Soho, making this fine piece also a challenge to theatre audiences’ complacency.
Lorraine: Maureen Beattie.
Marie: Zawe Ashton.
Director: Lucy Morrison.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Anna Watson.
Sound: Becky Smith.
Fight director: Ruth Cooper-Brown.