Sussex University Drama Society last year brought Mike Bartlett’s play “Contractions” to the Fringe and C Nova; this year they return with Chloë Moss’ “This Wide Night.” Both plays, though very different in character, were first staged in 2008 and both draw their strength from the intensity of the interaction between two female performers. In “This Wide Night” Kitt Barrie and Lucy Skinner play Lorraine and Marie, former cellmates who are now at large and yet still cooped up together, this time in a London bedsit. We, the audience, are flies on the wall – an analogy which functions well because there are probably a lot of flies in this grubby flat.
I like the idea of transferring only slightly second-hand contemporary theatre to intimate venues. Those of us who were too lazy or stingy to catch these plays the first time around get to be fully updated, whilst the production can apply their not inconsiderable talents to something which seems more urgent than As You Like It. Yet contrary to “Contractions,” “This Wide Night” is not in itself a supreme success, and this production consequently leaves Chloë Moss, a prizewinning London dramatist, resembling a student writer.
It should work like this: the prisoner, having served their time, will be released to become a new human being. In reality, the released prisoner is usually profoundly intimidated by their freedom, with its emptiness, its merciless indiscipline, and the obligation to replace the prison’s regime with their own rules. “This Wide Night” is largely on top of these themes, but the trouble is that it is a lot better at registering all the subtle intricate rhythms of female friendship. Once safely within the warm tent of this play’s friendship, we are cut off from the outside world and its darkness. Indeed, to quote a little from the same Carol Ann Duffy poem which provides the drama’s title, “I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross to reach you. For I am in love with you.” In “This Wide Night,” the hills have been already crossed.
Although, in this production, Lorraine is beautifully portrayed, it seems that Barrie is making the best of a bad job. Lorraine is a good-as-gold cockney, and the murder she committed is apparently the one slip-up in a life of otherwise irreproachable virtue. At first we might assume that Marie wants Lorraine out of her hair because she will be otherwise dragged back into their shared past. It transpires, however, that Marie is disillusioned with freedom and mindful of preserving Lorraine’s aggravating goodness. There is nothing about Lorraine which is identifiably implausible, but somehow her character just does not ring true. If this character was more compromised, more pathetic or dangerous perhaps, then there would be more to fight for.