Pink and her little sister Rolly are the sort of drug-addled young people that politicians of all colours seek to vilify or redeem. Pink is a manipulative junkie prone to psychotic hallucination; Rolly is an illiterate mother-to-be, in and out of prison. They come from foster homes and live on a sink estate where they are routinely exploited for sex and violence to get cash they blow on heroin. But for Vivienne Franzmann, who won Manchester’s Bruntwood Prize in 2008 with her debut play ‘Mogadishu’, the two twentysomethings are spirited survivalists who miraculously represent hope.
The sisters have invented their own language somewhere between the Nadsat of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and modern street patois. This lingo is mostly sub-yardie ‘ting’ and ‘arks’, but the girls coin their own neologisms and although they can hardly read they still reference Dickens and Swift. Franzmann’s dialogue is a blend of lyrical realism cut with social commentary (which perhaps shows its patrician hand by citing Radio Four’s ‘The Archers’).
But the relentlessly bleak story – developed with Clean Break Theatre Company – condenses many women’s experience of the criminal justice system and offers respect and understanding where outrage and incarceration normally prevail.
Lucy Morrison’s intense production is a dingy descent into the violent squalor of these women’s abandoned lives. Designer Joanna Scotcher sets the action on a hillock of mouldy mattresses framed within a scaffold of plumbing and wiring. Across this, whirling fractals are projected like incipient psychoses. As Rolly, Ellie Kendrick is a gutsy little sister gestating a baby destined to be taken into care. Sinéad Matthews’s Pink, meanwhile, sets the pace as the controlling, fantasist big sister intent on maintaining a ‘Wizard of Oz’ dream world maintained by hand jobs, blow jobs and shoplifting. The pleasure is in their reckless defiance.
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I watched this with my husband last night and was blown away. The performances from Kendrick (Rolly) and Mathews (Pink) are absolutely outstanding. Quite simply, it is the best acting I have seen. I was genuinely moved by the dark and unrelenting events which were played out on stage. This was perfectly balanced with lighter, sometimes comical moments that had me in fits of laughter. The script was a fusion of rhythmical colloquial slang that felt raw and gritty, yet strangely poetic. I found myself genuinely caring about the characters and willing them to break away from their cyclical behaviour of drug taking and self-destruction.
The play was utterly engaging from beginning to end. Matthews’ is brimming with energy and totally captivating. She switches throughout from manic to wounded and vulnerable. Kendrick’s emotion also feels very real and I could almost feel her pain when her attempts to make a better life for herself were dashed by her sister. Although her character was more unassuming, her performance was equally as remarkable. Despite Pink’s attempts to sabotage her sister’s hopes of a better life, you can sense the unspoken love and loyalty between the two. It is emotionally exhausting, and appears even more so for the actresses who managed to captivate the audience with such a high-energy performance for 1 hour 45 minutes, without an interval.
The play brought up ethical questions for me, which I found myself pondering for quite some time afterwards. It allowed me to better appreciate the grim realities of drug addiction from a unique perspective, that is of Pink and Rolly. The cyclical and intertwined nature of troubled pasts, the prison system, addiction and self-destruction are profound and are portrayed eloquently. I found myself feeling sympathetic towards some of the damaging, and often ruthless, decisions and actions played out, and more appreciative of the enormity involved in breaking away from that lifestyle.
A must see; if nothing else to witness such superb acting.