One of the great joys of theatre is the contract of imagination between performer and spectator: if the former can conjure up another world, the latter will enter it with them. A bonus, then, to have not one, but layers upon layers of worlds evoked by the two female cellmates in Alice Birch’s Little on the Inside at the Almeida, from their dismal reality and fractured past to their dreamlike shared fantasies. However, what for us is a quick sojourn into another realm is for them a vital means of survival, and its loss could spell devastation.
This compelling 45-minute snapshot was written as a response to another Clean Break production, Rebecca Prichard’s Dream Pill, and both find effectively theatrical ways of framing harrowing, urgent issues. Birch avoids both melodramatic cliché and solemn preaching by focusing on the women’s perfectly symbiotic relationship and their sly glee in narrating and reframing events, conducting and directing one another with easy rapport.
The energy and wit of their re-enactment prevents the evening from becoming unbearably grim, as violent, traumatic experiences are related with bracing stoicism and a captivating eagerness to entertain. Simone Jones’s B has the cheeky swagger of the natural raconteur, brilliantly impersonating others and storming through story as she builds up to a punch line, while Susan Wokoma’s A balances lyrical evocation and wry observation with quiet gravity.