Written by: Catrina McHugh MBE
Directed by: Laura Lindow
Sick of being stuck in the house? Imagine being stuck in the Big House…
Devised with input from women in HMP Low Newton, Key Change tells the stories of two women, Lucy (Cheryl Dixon) and Angie (Jessica Johnson) incorporating further intertwined tales from their peers, Kelly (Christina Berriman-Dawson) and Kim (Judi Earl). Each woman plays themselves, plus the key characters in their stories. The show gives insight into why these women are where they are – prison. Through a mix of monologues, conversations and moments of often beautiful physical theatre, they describe spirals of underage relationships, drug use, depression, petty theft, domestic violence… and, ultimately, female friendship, hope and humour.
The set is basic, just a black stage, taped out areas, plastic chairs. Tech is operated on stage by a fifth woman, Stage Manager Kate Lewis (playing as Lorraine). The costumes are merely grey sweat-suits. But all of this makes the words stand out more and makes the gritty realism somehow even more real (even when they comically break the fourth wall to point out the fact this is all a show and someone just walked through an imaginary wall). Because as unreal as the stories could come across, the actresses manage to make everything feel relatable, probably due to the involvement of the real inmates to craft the characters and their lives. These anonymous women can always be seen behind the text. There is no Orange is the New Black glamour here.
Key Change was originally toured around men’s prisons. It’s easy to see why it could be insightful for the inmates, since the stories all begin with a man who did them wrong. Hearing women’s real prison stories – outside of fictional TV shows – is rare. It’s a way for possible perpetrators of abuse to be confronted with their actions without re-victimisation. But it’s also a fascinating insight for the non-prison population. The context might be foreign, but the feelings and experiences can be depressingly close to home. It would be even better had the cast included a woman of colour, who are depressingly disproportionately present in the prison population, although this could be explained by the Newcastle setting.
While the theatres are closed until the Corona Virus risk levels are lowered, it’s hoped that more companies will make use of online streaming. While Key Change was first devised in 2014, and toured in 2015/16, it’s great to be able to access such an impactful piece now, as one positive from this whole situation. Take an hour out of your day, log on to Open Clasp’s website, and log into someone else’s life for a while.
Watch it now at www.openclasp.org.uk