In this, the hundredth anniversary of woman’s suffrage, there is a lot of soul-searching going on in the world. Companies are publishing their gender pay gap analysis and also looking at the gender split at the most senior levels. Finally, it is being recognised that men and women should be treated equally even though, quite often, women can be the stronger of the two sexes. And strong women are at the heart of Martin Murphy’s one-act play Victim at the King’s Head Theatre.
Victim is set in a women’s prison with two protagonists, a prison officer and a life prisoner who has a finger in a lot of pies. Both women are very intrigued by the arrival of a new prisoner, one whose crime both amazes and disgusts everyone who knows why she is there. Prisoner and warder come into contact a lot but the officer is experienced and knows about keeping the requisite distance between them no matter what tricks the even more experienced prisoner may care to play.
Martin Murphy, who also directs the show, has taken an interesting risk in writing a monologue with two characters, played by one actor – Louise Beresford – and, although I initially had a problem with the dual characters – despite Beresford’s excellent use of accent to separate them – it pretty much worked as a storytelling device.
For me, the warder was the more interesting of the two characters. It is easy to forget that people in uniform are still human beings with the same senses and feelings as every other member of the population. So it was fascinating to watch the change in the warder’s personality between her job persona and the outside of work with the husband one. The prisoner was interesting in her own way, especially when she was giving us a masterclass in working the system. Murphy has obviously done his homework and some of the insights in prison life and the tricks used by both sides in this openly combative system were quite fascinating. I’ve even made a note of some just in case I ever find myself the wrong side of the iron doors. Of particular interest were some of the rules on what qualifies as success within the system and what is considered a failure.
Overall, and without giving too much away, Victim is quite powerful. Never having had anything to do with the custodial system, I can only base my judgements on it by second-hand information and the opinion of others – both the ‘lock em up’ brigade and the ‘prison is part of the problem not the solution’ lot – so it was interesting to see a representation of prison life that felt and sounded very authentic in this show. If I’m honest, then initially I would have preferred the two characters being portrayed by two actors, but I very soon realised that having only one person not only didn’t detract from the story being told it enhanced it. Louise Beresford is a first-rate actor who manages to make two very distinct, and strong characters both believable and understandable – if not necessarily likeable. By the end, I had seen the human side of both and was left thinking about the penal system as a whole wondering once more how it manages to survive and what life must be like for the underpaid and overworked prison officers, My final thought, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Review by Terry Eastham
“Who protects those that protect us?”
Martin Murphy’s award-winning 5 star 2017 Edinburgh hit is coming to London Victim, a one-woman show performed by Louise Beresford, explores the power struggle between prison guard and criminal following the arrival of a notorious inmate. Victim throws us inside the prison walls and minds of officer Tracey and inmate Siobhan, exploring the dynamics of life inside a women’s prison.
Bruised Sky Productions present:
Written and directed by Martin Murphy
Performed by Louise Beresford
King’s Head Theatre
March 31st – April 21st, 2018