“I don’t know why she’s crying.” This powerful line links Rebecca Prichard’s Dream Pill and Alice Birch’s Little on the Inside, both starring the talented Susan Wokoma and Simone James. At Almeida’s Festival, you never know what kind of alternative programming to expect. In this case, it’s ground-breaking brilliance – something theatre company Clean Break pride themselves on.
Dream Pill starts off the double bill, taking place in one of Almeida’s small but cosy dressing rooms. Fitting at best 20 people, Susan’s ‘Bola’ and Simone’s ‘Tunde’ walk around the space as if it was a full size stage, including the audience in their playful dialogue (as nine and ten-year-olds would do). Their friendship is tight, and the intimate set-up allows them to easily display this by re-enacting American TV series and animatedly imitating their ‘bosses’. But reality soon sets in – their ‘bosses’ are in actuality a pimp and a brothel keeper. Hints of this are given throughout with faint rumblings of heels tapping or soft knocking on doors. It’s made all too clear when Tunde must leave the room wearing over-sized stilettos and a layer of red lipstick. And just as the show starts, it quickly ends, leaving you without words and the need for fresh air. It’s powerful stuff, and a topic that deserves raw scripting such as this.
After a much-needed 45-minute break, Little on the Inside begins – now in Almeida’s reception that resembles an outdoor area, complete with turf and picnic benches. The two actresses are back, only this time they are inside a prison and their roles are reversed. Simone’s nameless character is strong and feisty while Susan’s is ponderous and lithesome. Like Dream Pill, their friendship immediately feels deep-rooted – this seen as they rap, dance and cajole as if life is at the tip of their hands. But reality is again brought to fruition when one of them is granted a discharge, inevitably changing the context of their relationship.
To watch both shows back-to-back is impressive on all accounts. It’s a reminder that Almeida’s nod to fresh material is a step above many, and that theatre companies like Clean Break who are also focused on helping prison offenders regain their lives is not only inspiring but cutting edge as well. Directors Tessa Walker and Lucy Morrison (who happens to be Head of Artistic Programme at Clean Break and Almeida Festival's current Artistic Director) let the words from Dream Pill and Little on the Inside, respectively, breathe. Little is required in terms of set and costume, and instead an impactful punch is made with unique staging and intensively strong performances.
The shows end tonight with sold-out performances but returns may be available on the door. Dream Pill begins at 8pm and Little on the Inside at 9.15pm. Tickets £10/ £5 concessions per show or book both shows for £15.