Women and prison. After Clean Break’s shattering Pests, Paines Plough’s Hopelessly Devoted is not exactly an antidote. Despair still bounces off the walls of Joanna Scotcher’s chess inspired grey walls. But Hopelessly Devoted written by the gifted, award-winning performance poet and rapper, Kate Tempest offers up hope in the form of words and music.
For if Chess and Serena are mothers who have found themselves locked up – Chess for killing her husband, Serena for theft and violence – what brings them together is love and most of all rap and music.
Anger, guilt, shame, fury at a system that has failed them and men who have beaten them, loss not just of physical freedom but contact with those they most love – all these have been covered in plays by Clean Break and others.
But Tempest, a phenomenal rapper whose heart is on the line in every word she writes has written something different. A rapping performance poem and love-story.
Hopelessly Devoted, her debut play does sometimes come over as simplistic. But Paines Plough’s spare, taut production shows not only how devotion and good intentions can go wrong but the tender, strange alchemy of love and trust that prison can produce
Tempest’s songs as sung by Cat Simmons, are extraordinary paeans of pain, love, and resistance. Lock ‘Em Up and Kids should definitely be recorded. But then the whole text should be uploaded and made available. Paines Plough, proudly celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a fine history over four decades of producing new writing and co-producers Birmingham Repertory Theatre have strangely not produced a programme with production background. Audiences deserve to have more information about this exciting development where words are so important.
`Mad innit’, says Chess, about songwriting, `the way it’s just not there, until you pluck it out the air, and then it is there. Like it’s always been there, waiting for you to see it. You just got to look with the right eyes.’
Amen to that and to Gbemisola Ikumelo as Serena, Chess’s cellmate and Michelle Gayle as the music producer who encourages the 25 year lifer Chess to put her soul out there. Respect!