Review of Key Change

We are proud of Eliza Strassheim from Mortal Fools Youth Theatre Ensemble, who has shared her review of Key Change, captured by the BBC as part of The Space commission, funded by Arts Council England. You can read Eliza’s review below.

Key Change Recorded Theatre-Performance Review

Key Change is a fascinating and perceptive play which looks at four women telling their stories of serving time in Prison. Recently, I watched this from home on my Mum’s laptop with my Mum, using a link we were given by the production’s Theatre Company, Open Clasp, to view it. By the end of the play, as the video faded to black, we were astounded. The writing of this production to the delivery by its cast, as someone watching the play progress, you could tell great care and attention had gone into telling these women’s stories, which it has as this play was devised with the women of the HMP Low Newton.

Written by Catrina McHugh and Directed by Laura Lindow, Key Change excels at giving a bright and engaging delivery of human characters and dark themes which are in no way romanticised or displayed in a way which makes them more digestible to audiences, rather they are authentic and honest in their portrayal. An aspect of this performance which really captivated me as a viewer was the dynamic between the four women, Angie, Lucy, Kelly and Kim. The way these characters interacted was so emotive and real, the pacing of the dialogue, physicality of the characters, the specificity of how they each interacted with one another was engaging to watch.

It is quickly made clear these women do not have conventional female friendships, they have to look out for themselves and an incentive to “get there first” drives one of the first scenes, where only two out of three phones are available for their call home. Characters Angie and Lucy have their stories told, either have been involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. Angie suggests an undercurrent of sexual abuse took place during her childhood, she left home at a young age and was involved in many abusive relationships thereafter, using drugs as a coping mechanism to feel safe. We see this pattern occur in Lucy and Kelly’s stories also, using different unhealthy coping mechanisms to feel safe. These women are tied together by their vulnerability and want for security and escape, this is delivered sensitively to audiences as we see re-enactments of what their experiences of ‘normality’ are. Particularly for Angie, we can see as viewers how her drug addiction fuels her need to escape from a reality that has abused her and a system with little support to help this. For parts of the play, it’s as if we are escaping with her and the other women, we are part of their disassociation, where they are only able to articulate their experiences and emotions, but when we are taken back to the reality of their situation, we realise we just want to help the women get out of it and find a better normality.

At one point, Lucy’s daughter, Molly, has been expelled from school and on a visit to see her asks her Mum, “Is it my fault?” to which Lucy replies, “Yes, I suppose it is.” In my mind, this made me think of the prison system itself. Do we give the responsibility of failing a system to the individual or the faults in the system that made it fail the individual in the first place, or both? And I have to say, since watching this production, my answer to that question has changed.

I would highly recommend this play to audiences aged sixteen and up. Its insightful, witty and thought-provoking in its address to abuse, relationships, privileges and how we view the stereotypes surrounding the British Prison System. The cast have been a credit to the material they have worked with, they know its not an emotive story of progressive female friendships and they can’t have a typical Happy Ever After, but that’s not the intention for this production to show. This theatre will change your mind in some way, make you laugh and possibly cry, and that is what good theatre is all about.

Eliza Strassheim, Mortal Fools Youth Theatre Ensemble