A movement comes from under mussed up covers. At the bedside a woman sits still. It seems like she is accustomed to waiting. The lights come up on a small flat -‘They called it a studio. I got all excited, but it’s just a trendy word for a bedsit, isn’t it? Studio’- as Marie (Jayd Johnson) flings herself out of bed. A bag is now being carefully packed. A chap at the door, a rattle of the letterbox, a voice calling into the flat: ‘Marie?’
Originally written for Clean Break, a company which explores women’s experiences of the criminal justice system, This Wide Night tells the story of Marie and Lorraine (Elaine C. Smith), two women who became friends in prison. After Lorraine is released she goes straight to find Marie, but life on the outside isn’t easy: relationships are particularly difficult to negotiate when so much is different. Over the course of Lorraine’s visit there are all the moments of awkwardness, hilarity, moodiness, concern and hysteria which attend their relationship which has little to hold it together other than this shared past experience of incarceration, and their present situation of being cut loose, and drifting together.
Smith’s Lorraine is tenacious, with a sharp eye for when Marie is in need, or when she is lying. Johnson’s performance swings from manic excitement to terror and despair. All the while Lorraine looks on; tenderly, but never credulous. Yet she has her troubles too, in gut-wrenching dramatic outbursts where she seems to crumble before the audience. Her stand-out scene comes when Marie dresses her for her first meeting with her grown-up son since he was a child. The emotive reality of this situation creating much pathos on the part of the audience.
The writing dwells on the small things: buttons coming off, empty fridges, the warm glow of pizza and televisions with broken sound. These are balanced out by the main character’s fear of all that lies outside the flat. A deft use of lighting communicates this disturbing sense of trauma: shadows just nearly out of the audience’s sight seem tinged with violence, and seem to reflect on both Marie’s past””more disturbingly, they juxtapose with her increasingly directionless life. We never hear full stories, about her work, about her junky ex-boyfriend, about why her or Lorraine were in jail in the first place, but this doesn’t matter. They don’t come across as big secrets, just things the characters don’t feel like talking about right now. There are other things for us to notice about them. There is time to talk about everything under the sun, except what they’re going to do with their lives.
Watching the play, you got the sense that This Wide Night could easily be made into a short film, and a question arises about what seeing the performance live brings to your experience of the work. The immediate answer is that the play captures a conflict between inertia and time passing which is made all the more visceral by David Greig’s directorial style, and by the consummate performances of Johnson and Smith, who reach out and pull the audience right into this uncomfortable world without the safety of a screen.