Imprisoned is a double bill of two new plays by Marie Hale. The plays invite the audience to witness two separate monologues by two very different women. There were obvious parallels between the two parts of Imprisoned; the monologues, the female leads. But Imprisoned was the overall title for the double bill and it was this theme that connected these two shows.
The first of the two plays is Something for the Men, directed by Kasia Rozycki and performed by Meg Lake as Vicky Barwell. The play follows Vicky as she negotiates life and shares her stories with her work colleague Lou.
As the audience enters the space a mashup of classic 1980’s songs being played over the speakers greets them. From Blondie to Prince, in the intimate cave like space of the Baron’s Court Theatre, you are thrust back in time.
When Lake enters the stage, fresh from a violent incident with her husband, the audience is made instantly aware that Vicky is a troubled character, but as the play progresses you soon learn that, despite her troubled past, Vicky is a survivor. Lake presents the audience with a throwback, an emblem of what it meant to be a working-class, 1980’s woman, with shoulder pads, a typewriter and a can-do chatty attitude to go with it.
Lake commands the stage very well and although at first there was a slight strangeness around Lake conversing with the non present character of Lou, her work colleague, Lake’s comfort, ease and focus on the invisible Lou definitely filled that empty void. By Hale not including this second character, a character that could have easily been present on stage for a very interesting two-way conversation, the focus fell completely on Lake and the empty void of Lou became symbolic of the judging abyss against which woman constantly battle.
Both plays were very naturalistic and there was an organic feeling around the way in which Hale’s script flowed and used personality and the nuances of speech to progress the action. The only criticism would be the amount of ‘topics’ that were covered in Something for the Men. Lake’s monologue included unplanned pregnancies, domestic abuse, abortion and divorce. Although these were all integrated into Lake’s life, it turned the play into an issue play – which wasn’t very subtle. The more interesting part of Hale’s writing was Vicky’s approach to life and how, in day-to-day situations, she contemplated her own self-worth, her value and her life in terms of her relationships with men.
Rozycki’s direction led to an intimate show that used comedy, singing and speech to create a relationship between the audience and Vicky’s character. Although Rozycki’s staging used the space well, the choice to have Lake move the desks apart only to move them back together, didn’t make any sense or add anything to the action. Likewise, although the balloons had a purpose in the end, for the rest of the play there was no context that enabled them to be present.
The second show in the double bill is Your Sacrament Divine, directed by Hugh Allison and performed by Brig Bennett. Bennett plays Helen, a prisoner who is waiting to be taken to the High Courts of Justice.
Although stumbling on a few lines from time to time, Bennett delivered the majority of her lines with conviction. Her Scottish accent allowed her to play with the words, making them sharp and soft in the right moments. Bennett comfortably moved around the stage, her interaction with audience members created an exclusive environment where she could deliver her story.
As the play progressed, Bennett became more charming and her prisoner status was forgotten as she drew the audience in. It was a shame that at times the acoustics of the room meant that Bennett’s words were lost as she moved around the stage. Also the use of music and sound needs to be reassessed. The sound effects were too loud and very distracting; they drowned out Bennett’s words. A constant hissing sound was present throughout the play, at first, one believed it to be a faulty speaker, yet it cut out at a very poignant part of the play. There was no need for this sound and it took focus away from Bennett’s performance.
Although the nature of a double bill means that there is a connection between the two shows and it is understandable that there was only about a minute break between the two shows, but the fact that props were left from the first show and Bennett as Helen spent a lot of her time on stage cleaning up just didn’t make sense. The setting had no relevance to Helen’s story.
Likewise, there were some staging choices by Allison that limited the audiences’ view. With thrust staging, not everyone will be able to see everything all the time, but in such an intimate setting, the audience need to feel part of the action and it was obvious that certain restricted staging meant that the audience lost attention.
The fluidity of Hale’s writing was not as strong in this play as the first. The story jumped about quite often and this became a little confusing. There wasn’t a clear division between the past and the present and, although it was acted well, the script did not feel streamlined enough. Furthermore, there did seem to be as much character development for Helen as there was for Vicky.
There were obvious parallels between the two parts of Imprisoned; the monologues, the female lead. But Imprisoned was the overall title for the double bill and it was this theme that connected these two shows. In Something for the Men, it could be seen that Vicky was imprisoned by her past, or her view on what she is meant to be. In Your Sacrament Divine, Helen was literally imprisoned, but the whole of her monologue seemed based around freedom.
Imprisoned is quite a strong word and neither play seemed to fully take on the baggage that comes with such a word. Both shows were nice in their own way, but contained nothing ground breaking or particularly poignant, nothing that could change perceptions, which is what felt like the intention of both plays.