Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Two women imagine a patch of grass far away from the prison cell that they share, and create a world that they can escape to. Written by Alice Birch and drawing on the stories of women who have been in prison this is a powerful and energetic piece of theatre.
Clean Break is an established theatre company that works with women affected by the criminal justice system, producing ground breaking theatre that explores and humanises issues affecting women offenders and women at risk. All the work I have seen by them has drawn on the experiences, stories and words of women who have been in the system.
In Little on the inside, two women: A and B share a cell. For B it is Day 1 of her sentence, for A Day 34. They use storytelling to create a world that is far away from the one they are in, a world with a patch of green on which they can be bigger and braver, on which they can escape to. In the course of the play they also introduce us to other nearby prisoners – in just a few words they conjure up images of the women living in nearby cells. But can they stay in that place that doesn’t exist? Can they stay together?
There is no set and no props – for once the venue, the former Anatomy Lecture theatre at Summerhall, provides a near perfect setting. The steeply raked Victorian lecture seating above a curved wooden wall gives a sense of the courtroom in which B was tried. At one point she takes the role of barrister and addresses us directly as though members of the Jury. Even the slightly unusual shade of green paint is reminiscent of the prisons I visited in my previous career (albeit less chipped and scruffy than in the average prison).
One impact of the acoustic of the setting is that the text does occasionally become indistinct at points where A or B or both are shouting. However, whilst this does mean we lose a little of Alice Birch’s superb rhythmic writing, once again it suggests something of the world of a prison, the echoing noise that can be a feature of an accommodation wing. It carries a different sort of power.
Alice Birch’s writing is poetic and powerful using simple language, often repetitive, often with the characters speaking for each other. This sometimes makes it difficult to know whose story we are hearing but it doesn’t matter because the two of them are creating something which is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Estella Daniels and Sandra Reid are both very talented and bring a huge energy and commitment to the roles of these two women known only as A and B. Together they held the audience spell bound, creating a sense both of the cell they occupy as well as the patch of green grass that they are imagining.
It is not an easy show to watch; it is created from the stories of real women in real prisons struggling to cope with their real lives. However, it is also full of humour and courage and warmth and will be among the best things that you see at the Fringe this year.