Such was the success of Clean Break’s Charged – six short plays from the company working directly with women affected by the criminal justice system – that it now returns to the Soho Theatre with three of the best (not to mention their superb directors and casts) in Re-Charged.
First up is Fatal Light by Chloë Moss, a tale of three generations of women and the mutual dependency strangling them, as mother-daughter love competes with paranoia. Opening with tragedy, Moss determinedly rewinds her narrative to a point of hope, making the light-hearted humour of her final scene all the more heartbreaking.
Dancing Bears by Sam Holcroft is a complete change of tone, dynamic and dangerous, with language and movement that dances off the page. But like Moss, Holcroft is interested in the ties that bind us, in this case into the gangs – male and female – at the end of every London street. The all-female cast is directed to particularly strong effect here, even if the ending loops round too neatly.
Finally, That Almost Unnameable Lust by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the least tidy of the three, but ultimately the most powerful. A well-meaning if naive writer-in-residence at a women’s prison struggles to get her group to speak up, let alone write anything down. Lifers Katherine and Liz both have their story to tell but prison has pressed pause on the most painful parts. As Liz puts it: “‘Are you rehabilitated?’ they ask. No. I’m just a lot tireder than when I came in.”
The beauty and truth of Lenkiewicz’s play is testament to the whole Clean Break project. In having the courage to question the place of arts in the criminal justice system, it actually confirms theatre’s potential to give these vulnerable women a voice and whatever small justice that voice affords them.