Published in the Guardian Stellar Quines on tour Three stars
I BET Christine Lindsay's early-morning dreams are like Dare to Care. If, like her, you had joined the Scottish Prison Service as long ago as 1976, you, too, would have your head filled with the dissonant voices of prisoners and warders. Her play is like a behind-bars Under Milk Wood, a theatrical poem made up of conversational fragments from women who are variously abused, suicidal, deranged and unrepentant. Their voices, which echo along institutional corridors never to be heard beyond the prison walls, are all they have to call their own.
Lindsay's language has an unsentimental authenticity and her characters ask for no special favours; we must take them as we find them. Most commonly, they come across as victims of circumstance, whether it's the fire-raising suffragette we see in flashback or the self-harmer in segregation who was raped by her father. If such characters appeal to our liberal sympathies, it's harder to feel sorry for the loan shark gleefully awaiting release and a return to profit, even if she is one more product of a dysfunctional society.
On the downside, Dare to Care hits one note and sticks to it. There is no plot or character development, and its vision, however brutal and true, is a familiar one.
On the plus side – and it's a very big plus – is Muriel Romanes's production for Stellar Quines. On an open set with microphone and monitors, vaguely reminiscent of the Wooster Group, she choreographs her excellent six-strong cast through an inventive pattern of solos and ensemble pieces. They are isolated beneath Jeanine Davies's high-contrast lighting, its enveloping gloom suggesting no life beyond their closed world, yet when they come together in a series of raps and chants, they drum up a mood of defiant solidarity that does indeed dare you to care.