Left - Olivia Connolly, Andrea Swifte. Cover - Andrea Swifte, Olivia Connolly. Photos - Jodie Hutchinson
This Wide Night by Chloë Moss is a beautiful rendering of the fragile friendship formed between two women in prison.
Moss’ writing and use of language has a classic English comedy turn of phrase, with perfectly timed one-liners eliciting a live audience laugh-track. Inspired by a group of female prisoners, Moss’ characters are real – we laugh because we know them. However, what makes Moss’ writing so special and engaging is the funny and tender treatment of its characters and their individual stories.
Lorraine (Andrea Swifte) is a middle-aged woman with a robust and sturdy exterior and a delightfully witty and vulgar turn of phrase. She makes Marie (Olivia Connolly) laugh (and the audience, too!). She is the friend who will not leave, the friend who you can never get rid of. She turns up unannounced on Marie’s doorstep. The audience cackled knowingly as Lorraine slowly smothered Marie and her personal space – think of the friend who shines a torch in your eyes when you’re trying to sleep, who makes shadow puppets on the wall, who will not let you sleep-in in the morning.
Marie is younger, trying desperately to escape her past but ultimately defeated by the effort. She lounges around in her pyjamas, blankly staring at the pictures on her broken television – it has no sound. She is lonely, but wants nothing more than to be left alone.
Connolly and Swifte have a lovely chemistry on stage, creating a vivid depiction of the fragile and tender friendship between the two women. As they played ‘floppy dolls’ (a game in which they spun and dragged each other across the floor in order to disorientate), my own memories of the fun of playing games with childhood friends welled up and made me smile (as did seeing two grown-up women play like careless children).
Swifte’s portrayal was wonderful in its control and nuance. She captured the slapstick spirit of Moss’ language, amusing the audience with the dry delivery of Lorraine’s one-liners, while simultaneously revealing a quiet vulnerability. The monologue in which Lorraine described the day her son was taken away, beating herself up for not being able to remember the colour of the jumper he was wearing, was delivered with a gentle unaffected rawness.
Connolly complemented Swifte delightfully, capturing Marie’s conflicting sense of irritation and enjoyment in Lorraine. The climax of Marie’s frustration at Lorraine was executed beautifully as a complete release of the slowly built up niggly tension.
Dayna Morrisey’s set design cleverly created the claustrophobic coldness of a rented apartment with its ‘open-plan’ lounge/bedroom/kitchen and oppressive ceiling. The back wall was a chalkboard, on which the passing of day and time was wildly scrawled by Geordie Taylor, in a non-speaking role. This device jarred with the rest of the production, creating a recurring sense of menace between the fragmentary sections that was relentless in its overt theatricality.
The power of the production, and of the Moss’ text, is found in the balance between humour and horror. The audience laughs with and is struck silent by the characters, their stories, and their need for friendship.
Red Stitch presents
This Wide Night
by Chloë Moss
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
Dates/Times: Fri March 20 – Sat April 20. Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Duration: 70 minutes
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083