Exciting things have been happening at Theatr Clwyd since artistic director Tamara Harvey took the helm. Seeds planted behind the scenes at the beginning of her tenure are now bearing fruit. One of these is a play co-commissioned from Welsh playwright Kath Chandler by Harvey and director Roisin McBrinn after a chance encounter between the two women on the tube.
Their motivation was the fact that there is no prison in Wales for female prisoners, meaning Welsh women are incarcerated an average of 101 miles away from their homes, with all of the knock-on effects this entails for them and their families.
Receiving its world premiere at Theatr Clwyd, the play Chandler produced, after working with prisoners at Clean Break theatre company and at Holloway prison, is Thick as Thieves.
It is difficult to discuss the storyline without giving surprises away. All I can say is Karen is shocked when Gail, whom she has not seen since childhood, suddenly turns up at her office. Karen has a director level job, a large home, husband and three children. Gail’s life is as chaotic as Karen’s is orderly, and she brings with her memories of a past that Karen might prefer not to revisit.
What follows is a tense two-hander played out on a sparse pink-carpeted square stage, which at some point in the proceedings begins to tilt. Does this mirror the power shift between the two women, the character with whom the audience’s shifting sympathies lie from moment to moment, or which of the two women is judging the other? I would say all three and either way it is incredibly effective, all credit to designer Alyson Cummins. The simplicity of the stage also serves to magnify the effects of the physicality of the acting and skill in delivering the rollercoaster of dialogue.
Actors Siwan Morris and Polly Frame are familiar faces having reams of experience to their names. They both gave captivating and memorable performances.
Some big themes are tackled: how women’s lives are affected by the criminal justice and care systems, societal issues such as how much one’s start in life affects the path it takes, motherhood and the associated guilt and judgement.
There’s no shying away from the fact that this is a pretty intense show – but pretty worthwhile. I’m grateful that women in theatre are producing plays that highlight the issues women have to contend with that men don’t necessarily have to.
All in all a thought-provoking and powerful production.
Thick as Thieves is at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, until Saturday October 27.