Zawe Ashton, Maureen Beattie
Produced by Clean Break (who recently staged Lucy Kirkwoods powerful It Felt Empty at the Arcola) Chloe Mosss play, This Wide Night, is the fruit of a playwriting residency spent at HMP Cookham Wood and is about life such as it is – after prison, exploring the various struggles and adjustments required in order to survive on the outside.
Marie spends her days in a cramped council bedsit – swigging cheap lager while sprawled in the sedative glare of her soundless television set – and her nights doing some unspecified job that requires a lot of vigorous showering afterwards.
When Lorraine, her middle-aged former cellmate, turns up at her door in need of a place to stay she is initially wary but eventually allows her to stop with her until she gets herself sorted.
Moss delicately unfolds the complicated relationship between the two women. They are both needy yet hesitant in their affections, both volatile and capable of snapping, of sudden flares of temper. Details of their past life together are only slowly fed to the audience there is brief mention made of care homes, violent lovers and addiction but Moss resists the urge to spell things out; she is not afraid of ambiguity, of leaving things unsaid.
The idea of official assistance is abruptly dismissed (“they dont really give a shit”) so the two women must support themselves as much as theyre able to. In a touching moment Marie gives Lorraine a shiny shirt bundled into a plastic bag, a gift, so she has something nice to wear when she meets the son she hasnt seen in years.
The dialogue is rich and fresh and peppered with wonderful details (“Look at you,” Lorraine says admiringly of Marie, “you look like an advert for Vosene”) and superbly brought to life by Zawe Ashton, as Marie, a woman hardened by the world yet whose face still lights up in delight at the thought of playing party games, and Maureen Beattie, as the older but only marginally steadier woman who, after serving a twelve year sentence, is resigned to being dealt a dud hand by life.
Director Lucy Morrison creates a sense of insularity, of a life still shaped and infected by the time spent on the inside an impression aided by Chloe Lamfords cramped, spare set with its tatty sofa bed and functional kitchen units – and throughout there is a plausibly awkward mix of warmth and tension between the two women; they nurture one another yet provide a constant reminder of where theyve been and what theyve lived through.