Inside B*tch at the Royal Court was an interesting and unique experience for me. I laughed; I learnt and listened to four women and their account of life inside. Upstairs in the Jerwood Theatre space of the Court the intimate but end on stage was a perfect setting and helped the narrative. Centring around the task to create a TV show on life of women in prison, we follow a description of each women and their particular cell setting, creating a pilot for the show and coming up with character names for themselves.
The Artist, Muvva, Pitbull and Queenie explore how one-dimensional TV shows about female imprisonment can be. From the discrimination they face when getting work after serving their sentence to how uniform was not their actual experience and may contribute to the idea of a boxed and narrow view.
Multimedia, complex and Lateral
The style of the piece is very much like a documentary, which is set right at the start when the fourth wall is broken by TerriAnn Oudjar’s character “Pitbull” - she speaks directly to the audience. Further to this – we learn that these women, although actors, have all spent time inside prison in their real life. I loved this because I think it provides an authenticity that regardless of how much you research you cannot meet. It also leaves no room to discredit.
The purposeful flicker between scenes inside the play and the actress’s actual experience inside prison added texture to the piece and depth to the production as a whole. It demonstrates the talent both in performance and in engaging with real emotion. In addition, the actresses confronting their past and presenting their talent dismantles the linear perspective of the “good”, “right” and “pure” woman and/ or ex-offender!
In one of the scenes whereby they are researching elements for the pilot series the women sit around a table playing a card game. As each player has their turn they repeat dialogue, in a sort of battle to be heard.
Muvva says; “It all depends on what cards your dealt in life”.
This statement ran deep into me because I think all to often we find it easier to dismiss oppressive circumstances that hold a big influence on the decisions we make. Further to this, we learn in the card scene about women that are incarcerated for petty crimes such as not paying the TV license or a child playing truant.
The monologues are another feature that documented each woman’s personal experience. This was delivered to the audience anywhere on the stage including inside of a recording booth. We hear how Muvva’s relationship with her children, particularly her son, was affected when she went inside. Therefore asking the unsaid question of whether a mother who transports drugs in order to have money for her children - a good mother?
The video footage of the women’s audition process towards the end – combined acting (auditioning) with a real life reality... their reality and contributed to the multimedia, documentary effect – symbolizing a more lateral way of thinking about prison in general.
However, I did feel it went on a slight tangent with the inclusion of footoage of the women going on tour to different cities; as well as the actual selling of branded Inside B*tch merchandise to the audience. And although it arguably aided to the comedic, light hearted approach to life in prison for women and the consequences there after – its inclusion distanced me from the serious and true reality of a patriarchal system that still is harsher to women in sentencing!
Overall... this is my rating.
Inside B*tch runs at the Royal Court Theatre until 23rd March. It is a devised piece by Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small of Clean Break.
Conceived by Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson.