Key Change

I first came across Open Clasp Theatre Company at a ‘Rediscovering the Radical’ Theatre Conference in Liverpool in September.  They came highly recommended.  Their production touring to Contact, Key Change is an ‘illuminating portrayal of women in prison‘, an exploration of how domestic violence affects women.

This is a play that says very little against ‘men’ and everything against those men that perpetrate domestic violence.  Throughout there is a message that what these women want is a normal life.  They want opportunities, family stability, hope.  They want a job that pays enough to live without resorting to shoplifting or drugs, a partner that treats them with respect, and freedom.  And yet like domestic violence in real life, much of it is hidden through the play.  We are left to pick in between the dialogue to see how dramatically their lives have been shaped by domestic violence – explicitly from partners and implicitly from fathers.

Key Change was developed with women from HMP Low Newton, and the play is formed from their stories.    Set in a prison, the cast mark out specific areas with masking tape to create their world.  Significant events that led these women into prison are created as ‘plays within a play’.  The key dynamic comes from the relationship between first time shoplifter and concerned mother Lucy (Cheryl Dixon) and serial drug offender Angie (Jessica Johnson).  At one point someone tells them they wouldn’t be friends, but their stories are inextricably linked by their pasts.

This play is beautiful.  It has no sentimentally, focusing on the facts and highlighting the different ways in which domestic abuse can lead to women ending up in prison.  Equally, it doesn’t take the hard-hitting approach; most of the play exists at a comfortable pace, with moments of intelligent humour, which only serves to highlight the three instances of true violence.  It’s a play that asks many questions, but offers hope and understanding.

We’re left with the questions.  Are there things these women could have done differently?  Is prison the right place for any of these women?  Or some of them?  But most of all we’re left with the impact that male perpetrators of domestic violence, in this play the invisible hand, have on women.  A brilliant play on a subject that all too often we neither see nor talk about.

Contact, Manchester, 22 – 24 November.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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