Conceived by: Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson
Devised with: Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Early March is proving to be an important period for new shows based on the experience of prison. The Young Vic has the fictional Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis set in America, while a well-scheduled companion piece by Luke Barnes, The Jumper Factory created with the men of HMP Wandsworth, is a fascinating insight into the routine, fears and coping mechanisms for those still serving their sentence. The Royal Court has a slightly different kind of show, led by four female artists with experience of prison.
Inside Bitchsets out to debunk the myths about prison life perpetuated by TV shows and films that have very little basis in reality. Instead, Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small decide to make their own female prison drama, taking the concept from the development of character names and cliched dialogue to their marketing tour, merchandising and eventual reviews.
Inside Bitchmay be rough and ready, but, with several poignant moments to balance out the cheeky satirical humour, it is an entertaining examination of their collective experience. The performers build an instant rapport with the audience, using an open, conversational approach that sets the tone for a show that is mostly playful. Their lack of artifice is its biggest asset, while the willingness of the performers to share the variety of their experiences creates a feeling of inclusivity in the room that encourages the audience to lean-in.
Divided into 12 chapters, with each a self-contained sketch using different multimedia approaches or theatre techniques to relay its message, which together suggests how wildly inaccurate and generic media portrayals of female prisons have become. An early monologue read by Edkins is a transcript of a prison guard’s increasingly infuriated response to watching their fictional counterparts’ dereliction of duty in Orange is the New Black, which, combined with Joseph’s early scene from The Shawshank Redemption, reinforces the formulaic and lazy approach to most prison drama.
Later the performers dress is jazzy jumpsuits with their character names emblazoned on the back to mock our visual expectations of prison life, before asking the audience to name soap opera characters who’d been jailed. They then use video to run a slideshow of sexist movie and TV posters with scantily clad women as well as an amusingly sensationalist trailer for their imagined drama. Some of the best moments are the more introspective ones, however, and as Joseph stands in a sound booth to read the story of her arrest and the effect it had on her children, she is still visibly shaken by the memory and refusal to forgive herself.
Inside Bitch has a loose structure and a lot of ideas for a 60-minute show. The free-ranging nature of the piece is enjoyable but it’s haphazard feel has some less effective scenes, including the explanation of an elaborate Top Trumps-based card game that has an obscure political point to make, and a layered section in which each artist describes the layout of their prison overlapping confusingly – given the varied approaches used in the show, another way of presenting this either using video or even a model might be more effective.
A small show with a lot to say, Inside Bitchskewers the creative process, its reliance on easy stereotypes and the assumptions we all make about what life behind bars is really like. It needs more focus and a bit of polish but the performances of Edkin, Joseph, Oudjar and Small are honest and full of heart.
Until: 23 March 2019 | Image: Ali Wright