OUTSIDE IN, wit incorporated at Bluestone Church Art Space, Footscray. 20 October-4 November 2017. Photography by Niko Keenan
Audiences seem to love all-women prison tales (Prisoner, Wentworth). We are voyeurs of the prison hierarchy where only the tough survive, with screws that are worse than the inmates, bad food coupled with bad crimes, jealousy, dominance, boredom, graft and corruption. I ponder why the vernacular hits on the lower socio-economic side when we know white collar criminals are very much in the mix.
Outside In, written in the mid-80s, was award-winning playwright Hilary Beaton’s first play. And it has that feel about it with, for instance, characters having to make big changes from the first to the second act that seem unsupported.
There’s a minimalist set (trestle table, arm chair, TV etc) that perhaps could have been done without to give the production a modern figurative edge. This might have assisted the cast, especially Kate (Sarah Clarke) the ex-hooker who, by the writing, has let herself go and eating is her main game: tricky when she is a slip of a thing. Her partner in crime, mate and sparring partner Sandy (Andrea Solonge) is the gossip chaser and pickpocket with a drug habit.
The newcomer Dogshit-Helen (Kerry du Plessis) gives us the well to do side of being an inmate. Du Plessis handles it well but is ultimately not served by the writing in the second act, her rise to challenge for top dog and the camouflaging loss of her vowels happening all too quickly.
Then we hit the nitty gritty with Ginny-Princess (Belinda Campbell) twitchy, not bright, easily led and dangerous. Campbell is terrific, menacing and utterly lost. The Boss (Jennifer Piper) is a long-termer and runs the place, but is getting softer in her old age and her protection of Ginny is her downfall. Piper is strong and commanding and fragile.
The play is slow to come to life, and the actors are a bit slow on the uptake but they warm up towards the end of the first act. After interval, all hit their marks. Director Faran Martin works her actors well in the small space.
Outside In doesn’t give us any big messages other than the harsh realities of prison life. The characters don’t hanker for changing their lives on the outside or the inside – it is what is.