[BLANK] at Donmar Warehouse: A Theatrical Review
Alice Birch’s 100 scene play is inspired by true accounts of women affected by the criminal justice system. Director Maria Aberg makes use of 30 of these for the powerful performance put on at the Donmar Warehouse. Examples include a prisoner pleading for her television to be taken away from her because she fears she might electrocute herself with it, and a woman escaping an abusive partner with her children who desperately seeks refuge at a domestic violence shelter, but is turned away for lack of space. Each story is shockingly devastating and one feels grateful that Birch has enabled such accounts to be told and known. As they unfold before you on stage, you can do nothing but feel outraged that such stories are real but little is being done to help the individuals affected.
The all-female cast includes Shona Babyemi and Lucy Edkins, two members of the reformative theatre company Clean Break, founded 40 years ago by two female prisoners. The intensity of emotion achieved on stage is palpable and despite each clip being fairly short in length, for the most part, they succeed in conjuring felt emotion in the audience members. The acting is perhaps slightly inconsistent and the rhythm of the play disrupted somewhat by an intelligent and important 45-minute clip of an insufferable middle-class dinner party. This scene is highly relevant in raising issues of hypocrisy. The clip involves a group of successful women, including a lawyer, documentary filmmaker, and therapist who, whilst ordering cocaine, rave about labneh, yoga and brag about volunteer work in Bolivia. The outsider to the group, Shona Babayemi, begins to expose their hypocrisies. She dissects the word “revolution” after another character uses the term to praise the #MeToo movement, only to expose how often it is misused. At a time when young girls are being burned alive for speaking out about inappropriate male teachers, Alice Birch's message is pertinent. The scene serves as a critique of liberal smugness that likely hits home for many an audience member. This scene alone, a strange interruption from a Deliveroo driver aside, makes the play worth seeing. The audience glimpses what Shona points out to be their “bleeding heart bubble of hypocrisy”, as the seemingly joyous evening of politesses descends into total disaster. The play then goes back to a series of a few short clips, by which point the rhythm is slightly lost as the play feels as though it ends twice. Minor niggles aside, [BLANK] is a spectacularly poignant piece of theatre; thank goodness Donmar Warehouse put it on for all to see.