Charlotte Jones’ 1997 play was inspired by a newspaper cutting about a pair of women, Miss Kitson and Miss Baker; incarcerated for half a century under the infamous Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, for the ‘moral imbecility’ of having a child out of wedlock. But this is not an agit-prop political campaigning work; more a fantasy on the way two women might survive this mind-numbing fate, and an exploration of human beings under pressure and how they can support each other in such a mystifying Kafaesque world. This may sound grim, and in some senses it is, but in this powerful production from Old Bag Theatre Company it also achieves a terrible beauty. The choice to cast four women to play the pair when young (Phoebe Mulcahy and Serena Dunlop), and when old (Liz Hume and Jane Lawson) is highly effective, as the time frame weaves back and forth between the decades. The cast are superb, all of them, running the whole gamut of the emotional and personality changes up and down the years with consummate skill. There are conflicts, there are moments of tenderness, there is much humour (Yes!), and, cleverly, the pace never flags or becomes stultifyingly repetitive in the way that the real life experience must have done. And the songs of Doris Day come to have an unexpectedly much deeper effect than you might have thought possible. A profoundly moving, and essentially life-affirming piece of theatre: its many and varied images will stay long in the mind. Marvellous.
John Christopher Wood