A common factor in the best sitcoms–and dramas, for that matter–are situations from which the characters can’t escape, most notably from each other: the binds of family (take your pick from Steptoe and Son to Only Fools and Horses and Our Family), the necessities of conflict (Dad’s Army) or perhaps because they’re physically locked up together in a prison cell (Porridge). Those restrictions are frustrating, of course; but they also, strangely enough, simplify the world for the characters, who can find security and comfort in their situation.
Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night had me thinking of the iconic prison sitcom Porridge a lot.
Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night had me thinking of the iconic prison sitcom Porridge a lot, even though–on this occasion–the pair of characters are (a) female and (b) no longer detained “at her Majesty’s pleasure”. Yet nigh on all the action we see is set within the isolating, cell-like restraints of a bedsit–the reality of a so-called “studio flat”. And there is still that generational difference; Elaine C Smith is 50 year-old Lorraine, a mother missing the child taken away from her, who “inside”looked after young former-drug addict Maire. Played with perhaps too much brute force by Jayd Johnson, Marie is still “just a wee bit lost”and–whether she likes it or not–we realise she needs a mother’s love.
While it has its moments of comedy, This Wide Night is a grim enough two-hander, showing us the character’s attempts to establish new lives outside of prison. That Marie–who has slipped into prostition–is fearful of everything outside the flat is obvious from the word go; grabbing a knife or glass bottle to defend herself at the first knock on the door. Lorraine, on the other hand, is initially defined by her dreams of finding work and reconnecting with her adopted son. Looking from the outside, both appear to be heading for a road-crash.
It’s through the small details that Moss brings life to her characters: for example, Marie’s envy of a primary school contemporary whose mum worked in Greggs and was able to “put cream cakes in her packed lunch”, or Lorraine’s unhurried assumption of tidying up duties in the flat. Smith is particularly impressive when it comes to “less is more”, giving a depth to Lorraine’s low-key stillness. Yet, despite the talents of the cast, an illuminated pizza box seems about as far director David Greig dares go when it comes to energising the first half of the play. It’s only towards the close, when it becomes clear the pair are still absolutely dependent upon each other, that things seem to come into focus–when you really begin to care about these two, vulnerable women.