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Beauty is Prison-Time

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Following a recent revamp the Lion and Unicorn Pub, home to the Giant Olive Theatre, is a rather nice little pub in Kentish town and the theatre itself is fairly spacious for its kind - well laid out with a good-size stage and suitably racked seating. Currently running a Gaea Theatre Festival to celebrate women playwrights, performers, directors and designers the first offering in the season is Beauty Is Prison-Time written and performed by Zoe Mavroudi.

Set in a Russian prison the play tells the story of Lyudmilla, a young inmate competing in the annual prison beauty pageant in the hopes of winning the coveted grand prize - parole. As she tells us her story she weaves seamlessly between past and present creating her costume and practising her poses in the now; while the then - her story of life in the Moscow underworld of trafficking, drugs and prostitution and her path to prison - comes slowly through.

Mavroudi is pitch perfect - instantly creating a rapport with her audience as she talks about her sewing prowess – “is prison record” and the oddities of the English language with its “ship” words – friendship, courtship – but none of them having anything to do with a boat. Her physicality is also impressive as she slides from inmate to judge; and naïve dancing girl in the “Club” to “Him” the club owner with a twist of her body and a slump of her shoulders.

Ciaran Cunningham’s lighting design is simple but effective – particularly the use of light and shadow on the pageant itself while Nikos Tsines and Mavroudi’s sound design certainly place you very firmly in a Russian world. Ika Avaliani’s set is suitably stark and allows Mavroudi the space and equipment she needs to create a whole world with only herself on stage. A particularly nice touch was the coat rail and coats as dancing partners.

An enjoyable piece with a stand-out performance from Mavroudi, this is certainly a wonderful celebration of women in theatre and while the view of Lyudmilla presented may be a little too rosy to give us a really honest understanding of her, as she would say “out” in the real world, it is her story after all and Mavroudi is sincere in the telling.

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