Inside Bitch at the Royal Court Theatre
Similar to the prevalence of police dramas on our screens – ones that are often wholly inaccurate depictions of the justice system as experienced – films and shows set in women’s prisons tend to offer up a warped, salacious, invariably blonde version of jail that is more referential to other examples of the genre than the realities of the situation.
Inside Bitch – a piece conceived by Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson for Clean Break, and then devised alongside Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small, the four performers all having had experience behind bars – sets out to shift some of those stereotypes. Or, perhaps, show how easy it is to fall into the trap of mashing together the nuances of each individual story into one hyper-sellable narrative.
Loosely constructed around the idea that the women are putting together a pitch for a TV show of their time inside, the production is scattershot in its approach, taking in card games, riffs and responses to some of the biggest examples of prison fiction, mild audience participation, verbatim monologue and dance. It feels like the show gets distracted with the next scene before fully exploring the last, leading to a series of sketches that touch upon the representation of female inmates and women’s prisons without quite revealing anything beyond the surface level differences between on-screen portrayals and real life.
The production works best when the bells and whistles are stripped away: Joseph as she stands in a voiceover booth, retelling the moment of her arrest and the reaction of her children in the ensuing weeks; Oudjar’s explanation of the urge to turn everything into a comedy; the silence that greets the play’s final question, asking whether there was a time the performers “laughed really hard” in prison.
The overarching impulse of Inside Bitch is understandable; it wants to treat its performers as exactly that, rather than talking heads in a documentary. To look at representations of prison from the perspective of those who have been there, without forcing these women to dredge up the explicit details of their past. It’s just a shame that the quietest, clearest moments dotted throughout the piece are swallowed up by scenes that often come close to (unintentionally) unravelling.
Photo: Ali Wright
Inside Bitch is at the Royal Court Theatre from 27th February until 23rd March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.