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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Birch’

Alice Birch has written 100 scenes about women’s experiences of the criminal justice system and set theatre companies the challenge of choosing 30 in any order to create a play. It’s like a jigsaw which itself challenges the audience, but the subject matter is challenging too. It’s bleak and sometimes harrowing, but it is insightful and thought-provoking.

The scenes vary in length and subject matter, some examining how the women ended up in the system at all, some showing the damage to relationships with mothers and children, some the impact of incarceration. One very long scene seems to turn the tables on those trying to help as their motivation and impact is questioned. It isn’t a linear narrative, some characters return, some don’t, yet it does provide a glimpse into these often seemingly hopeless situations, though its lack of hope brings the bleakness which does become a bit relentless.

Rosie Elnile’s two-tier design facilitates swift movement between scenes. Maria Aberg’s staging is stark and visceral. It would be invidious to single out any of the excellent ensemble of sixteen women. It’s staged as part of Clean Break’s 40th anniversary and it continues their campaigning, raising awareness. I was glad I saw it, though it wasn’t an easy ride.

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I’ve not seen an Alice Birch play before, but I have seen a lot of Katie Mitchell’s productions, which is why I didn’t book for this until after the reviews and after an invitation from friends; in short, I’ve grown to dislike her directorial dominance. However, I very much admired her work here, though it is challenging and bleak – we were given Samaritans contact details on the way out!

There are three scenes running in parallel throughout the play, the first in the seventies / eighties, the second c.25 years after and the third c.35 years later again, in the future. The years appear above every scene, but it is like a jigsaw, and it takes a while to work out that we’re with three generations of women. Carol, her daughter Anna, whose mother committed suicide in her teens and who herself commits suicide soon after giving birth to Bonnie, who is trying to avoid the same happening to her. It hints that this may be genetic, or that a mother’s suicide damages the child, however young, and later that even the house in which they all lived may play a part.

The overlapping dialogue is challenging, particularly at first. The scene changes, where other actors change the three protagonists’ clothes, are initially riveting but do become repetitive. The biggest problem though is the two-hour length – in my view, it would have been a better play if they had cut 20-30 minutes, and there are scenes, like an altercation between A&E doctor Bonnie and a patient’s relative, that seem unnecessary. Hattie Morahan as Carol and Adelle Leonce as Bonnie are terrific, but I felt Kate O’Flynn as Anna over-acted, particularly during her troubled late teens, as she did in The Glass Menagerie in the West End earlier in the year.

An intelligent and cleverly structured play that I admired rather than enjoyed, but glad I saw.

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