REVIEW: Key Change @ Live Theatre, Newcastle (12.9.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A massive reputation is following Key Change around like a lightning storm. After it shook The Fringe this summer, it won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award and it’s now set for a four week run in New York. But that’s not before the crew made a triumphant trip home to where it all started and, it’s safe to say, this play deserves every bit of the hype it has received. Based on interviews with real women in HMPYOI Low Newton Prison, Key Change uses brutally honest language and tight choreographed fight scenes to take you on an intense journey through a harsh and daunting institution. In the process, it captures the resilient nature of some of the most vulnerable people in this country.

The most striking parts were the eye-opening portrayals of how the women were forced into such desperate situations, such as drug addiction and theft, in the first place. It seems all too easy, living in the blame culture of Benefits Street, to point the finger at so-called ‘bad mothers’. However, faced with the grief of losing a child, with no shoulder to cry on and an onslaught of domestic abuse, Angie’s addiction to heroin (played by the excellent Jessica Johnson) becomes utterly understandable. With the click of a finger (physically represented as a finger click) the pain is taken away. “I felt safe,” explains Angie, “Which is something I wasn’t really used to.”

It has never been clearer that the environment you live in dictates your behaviour, though the message comes across with a subtlety and class. None of the characters would ever use their environments as an excuse for their crimes and you love each of them because of this, despite their obvious faults. Through all this suffering, it’s heart-warming to see that the prisoners find a way to smile. There were moments of pure comic genius, the best of which being when the characters break out of their storytelling to point out the fact that the surroundings are imaginary: “Kim, you’ve just walked through a wall!” screams Angie, to belly laughs and applause.

I don’t know how you end a show like this. In truth, there wasn’t much of a resolution, although that seems to be the point. It’s just not that simple. We see the women united as friends, helping each other, but when the system is so obviously in need of reform the future is uncertain. Still, raising this kind of awareness, and doing it in such a moving way, has got to be a step in the right direction.

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