Taking its title from an Emily Dickinson poem, And I And Silence was never likely to be a bundle of laughs; it's bleak but rather beautiful too. Telling the story of two women who meet in an American jail, it jumps back and forth between their time there in 1950, and nine years later when they try to make it on the outside. Dee is white and Jamie black so they should never have met as even their prison is segregated, but the teenage Dee (Lauren Crace) risks solitary to make friends with Jamie (Cherrelle Skeete,) sensing a kindred spirit. They keep each other going by discussing what they're going to do after release, treating their plan to clean houses with a scientific precision. Interspersed with this we see the 26-year-old versions of Jamie and Dee (Cat Simmons and Sally Oliver) who have indeed managed to get a tiny room together on the outside, but whose plans only work out for so long.
Caitlin McLeod originally directed Naomi Wallace's play as a rehearsed reading at last year's Vibrant Festival, and now returns as it gets a full production to finish off the current women playwrights' season. The four actors all make you root for their characters even at their darkest, holding on to their sense of humour as long as possible. The story runs the risk of descending into melodrama but personally I thought the cast and director avoided this. Cecilia Carey's set neatly creates the two different kids of prison the women find themselves in, and it's a well-paced 75 minutes that tells the story it needs to in the time without feeling rushed. Though race is a factor in some of the hardships the two women face, the overall theme is about the ability to love against the odds, and with a subject like that which could end up rather twee, this is instead a well-handled production which sees the Finborough back on track.
And I And Silence by Naomi Wallace is booking until the 4th of June at the Finborough Theatre.