Do not go expecting six miniature stage versions of The Shawshank Redemption. Charged at Soho Theatre is not Clean Break's attempt to recreate that heartwarming tale of human dignity and male friendship for women. Instead, these six plays by women about women affected by the criminal justice system are complicated, compelling investigations of contemporary crime and punishment.
In E V Crowe's Doris Day, police officers Daisy and Anna clash over how women in the force should behave, and what is expected of them. In Rebecca Lenkiewicz's That Almost Unnameable Lust, a writing workshop in a women's prison fails to give a voice to a mute elderly inmate. In Sam Holcroft's Dancing Bears, a teenage boy gang morphs horrifically in to a teenage girl gang, rife with razors, knives and violent, misplaced loyalty.
In the hands of the three female theatre directors Lucy Morrison, Caroline Steinbeis and Tessa Walker, there are no feel-good endings in Charged but neither are you crushed with hopelessness. The incredible power of Charged is the absence of solutions to the situations investigated. The all-female writers, directors, and actors let the stories tell themselves - they are what they are, and you are free to feel scared, angry, dismayed, uplifted, uncomfortable or happy as you wish. There is no invitation to judge or to lament the content of the plays; the most important thing seems to be simply knowing what leads women to crime, what their crimes are, how they are punished and who punishes them. Eye-opening and heart-breaking, you need to go once to Soho Theatre and then go back to experience all six of these startling, important plays.
Charged at Soho Theatre until 27 November, performed in two separate cycles as Charged 1 and Charged 2. For more information on the plays in each cycle and to book, go to the Soho Theatre website.