Published in the Guardian Tron Theatre Three stars
THE LAST time we saw Elaine C Smith, she was sending up Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight and Adele as a Fairy Godmother in the Aberdeen panto. David Greig, meanwhile, has been pulling in the crowds to his adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End.
Fans of Cinderella and Roald Dahl are unlikely to be prepared for This Wide Night, a grim slice-of-life two-hander, directed by Greig, in which Smith plays an ex-con. Escapist holiday entertainment it is not.
First staged by Clean Break at London's Soho theatre in 2008, Chloe Moss's kitchen-sink drama is an unsentimental study of two women trying to find a place in the world after they've emerged from the prison system. One, played by Jayd Johnson, is a former drug addict, prone to shoplifting and coerced into prostitution. The other, her old cellmate played by Smith, was inside for murder and, at the age of 50, forlornly dreams of rebuilding her family and getting a job.
When Greig saw a production in New York, he was taken by Moss's portrayal of people who society "too often finds expendable". Although they have paid their dues, you'd hardly call them rehabilitated. They are not defined by their crimes, but neither can they escape them. What sets them apart is their isolation.
For all that, the production shows us too much of their vulnerability and too little of their capacity to survive. The early part, especially, is tentative and in need of some brash theatrical energy to disrupt the quiet, conversational realism. Only as the play goes on, and we realise that their greatest dependency is not on drugs or alcohol but on each other, does their odd couple relationship begin to find its emotional force.