'Beauty is Prison-Time' and 'Nine' review or 'Battered but not bruised.'


'Beauty is Prison-Time', Zoe Mavroudi
'Nine', Jane Shepard
Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Friday 5th August
Written for Time Out

Zoe Mavroudi as Lyudmilla

'Win contest is like beauty ticket to out,' enthuses cell mate Lyudmilla, as she prepares for a Prison Beauty Pageant and, hopefully, her freedom. As Lyudimilla sews her glittering costume, Mavroudi's monologue retraces the steps that led a smart girl from the streets of Minks into an empty prison cell.

Mavroudi is both writer and performer and she performs her text with instinctive understanding, adjusting her voice and demeanour with skilful nuance. She's wide eyed when recalling her slide into prostitution, fierce when discussing her daughter and hauntingly naïve in her hope for escape.

It is a delicately ensnaring performance but the text's grip is less firm. The monologue occurs mainly outside prison and, despite its harrowing content, settles down into a relatively straight-forward narration of an innocent girl, undone.

The second play in The Gaea Festival also unfolds in prison but it is not sewing, but survival, that concerns cell mates 1 and 2 in Jane Shephard's 'Nine'. Two girls, chained to opposite sides of the cell, are alternatively removed for vicious beatings. As each one returns, the other tries to talk her companion back to life. The shorthand they use to describe their experience is frighteningly economical: 'They didn't do any work inside.'

Mary Mallen and Emily White's gurgling and writhing response to the beatings is intensely raw and tough to endure. But, despite this show's undoubted visceral impact, the anonymity of these girls and their still vague relationship make it too easy to walk away from 'Nine', battered but not bruised.

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