BOLDtext’s first all-female Open Door – three writers, two actors and a director – arrived at The REP stage door on a frosty January morning, tasked with producing an evening of thoughtful and engaging theatre in a single day. We knew from previous shows that we had an intense and demanding ten hours ahead of us.
Following BOLDtext’s very successful site-specific production Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock-Up in October, we wanted to continue our focus on law and order – but this time in a modern context by looking at sentencing. The BOLDtext writers had scripted three short plays on that theme, which would be followed by a panel discussion.
Liz John introduced us to the fictional character of Miss Deborah Foling, a breast surgeon found guilty of unlawful wounding of her patients, having performed major surgery to remove cancers which didn’t exist . This was inspired by a recent case in our region. Quizzed by a young lawyer as she awaits sentencing, the fictional Miss Foling gradually reveals her ‘justification’ for her unjustifiable actions. Whatever sentence she receives, the lawyer points out, her traumatised patients’ face a future many times worse…
Vanessa Oakes was intrigued by the variety of sentences and the quirks of law that deem one action innocent and another guilty, despite their similarities. One of the strangest was the sentence for handling a stolen book which was longer than a sentence for murder. There was some logic to it, but it still didn’t feel like justice.
Julia Wright (that’s me) looked at the most common reasons women are in jail and found the cause to be shoplifting or debt. Often the sentence can be only six months but that is enough to disrupt the rest of her family and cause loss of employment and home in that time – as her adult daughter reminded her in the play.
Our director, Vicki Duckett, had prepared well for this hectic day and worked through calmly and professionally, determined to get the best from the scripts and the actors. And our actors had to work their socks off. Bharti Patel, known for her role in BBC Doctors among others, proved once again her ability to inhabit a whole range of characters. Miriam Edwards, fresh from Over The Top at The Belgrade Theatre Coventry, was equally creative and the two actors sparked off each other brilliantly.
The discussion afterwards with Warwick University law professor Jackie Hodgson and probation officer Keith Stokeld, offered a thoughtful and interesting end to the evening. We heard about ‘weekend prison’, the impact of privatisation on the probation service, sentencing in domestic violence cases, and more.
Thanks to our audience for their questions and for all the lovely comments made afterwards to the writers, director and actors. We’re glad you enjoyed it (phew!) and we’ll see you next time!