Donmar Warehouse (venue)
19 October 2019 (released)
23 October 2019
‘Blank’ at the Donmar opens with an ordinary scene of two sisters having a glass of wine while making pasta. As the scene unravels, the barely supressed fury of the elder sister reveals that the last time she came round was to rescue the two kids after their Mum had left them to fend for themselves. But play-write Alice Birch didn’t decide where her play begins or ends. She wrote 100 distinct scenes about women affected by the criminal justice system and challenged the director to construct an entirely unique production.
‘I don’t know what safe feels like!’ screams a desperate women, surrounded by prison guards attempting to pacify her. With most dramatic representations of women in prison either demonising or glamorising, there’s certainly room for a more reflective space to consider women who offend and the impact of their imprisonment on their lives and their families. From a mother, receiving the news that her daughter has hung herself in prison, to two little girls in the care-stystem, fiercly protecting their belongings in plastic bags, the dramatic intensity is high from start to finish, with the production running at 1hr 20 straight through.
Maria Aberg’s production sensitively brings to life the incontestable fact that the vast majority of the prison population suffer from poor mental health, drug and alcohol addictions and have histories of physical or sexual abuse. Joanna Horton’s portrayal of a young mother re-visiting the nights of childhood sexual abuse where she felt like a girl inside a match-box is deeply affecting whilst Donmar regular Jackie Clune brings her usual wit and warmth to proceedings.
The Donmar, here in association with Clean Break already has an impressive record for all female work set in prisons through its Shakespeare Trilogy which transferred to Broadway after the huge audiences it enjoyed in their temporary Kings Cross space. Under the new artistic directorship of Michael Longhurst this legacy appears set to continue. ‘Blank’ is exceptionally ambitious in scope; aspiring to have a social impact at the same time as challenging dramatic conventions and last but certainly not least, to entertain.