Posts Tagged ‘Clean Break’

The Dixon of the title could be the family matriarch or her deceased husband, buried in the local cemetery, more likely the latter as we eventually learn he haunts just about every other character and is the focus of this dysfunctional family.

Mary returns to her home from a period of three months in prison, reduced from six months. It’s not clear why she was there. She’s furious that her daughter Julie has moved in, escaping her abusive partner, and wants her out, now. Her other daughter Bernie, and granddaughter Ella, are there to welcome her home. Their relationship is much stronger.

Mary has befriended Leigh, who she’s met in prison (a subtle, perfectly pitched performance from Posy Sterling) and invites her into her home. She’s oblivious to the family tensions and brings a sense of normality to proceedings. Then Mary’s feisty stepdaughter Tina, now known as Briana, turns up (a terrific performance by Alison Fitzjohn) and the family’s tragic past comes fully to the fore. Mary’s crime is her silence.

What I loved about the play is the way the story unfolds slowly, drawing you in to he family history, getting to know the characters, with a subtle reconciliatory ending in Roisin McBrinn’s well judged production.

The NT doesn’t have a great track record with new writing of late, but this new play by Deborah Bruce is a stand-out exception.

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Alice Birch has written 100 scenes about women’s experiences of the criminal justice system and set theatre companies the challenge of choosing 30 in any order to create a play. It’s like a jigsaw which itself challenges the audience, but the subject matter is challenging too. It’s bleak and sometimes harrowing, but it is insightful and thought-provoking.

The scenes vary in length and subject matter, some examining how the women ended up in the system at all, some showing the damage to relationships with mothers and children, some the impact of incarceration. One very long scene seems to turn the tables on those trying to help as their motivation and impact is questioned. It isn’t a linear narrative, some characters return, some don’t, yet it does provide a glimpse into these often seemingly hopeless situations, though its lack of hope brings the bleakness which does become a bit relentless.

Rosie Elnile’s two-tier design facilitates swift movement between scenes. Maria Aberg’s staging is stark and visceral. It would be invidious to single out any of the excellent ensemble of sixteen women. It’s staged as part of Clean Break’s 40th anniversary and it continues their campaigning, raising awareness. I was glad I saw it, though it wasn’t an easy ride.

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