Printable CopyJAIL BIRDS
The Newman Theatre at Wilderness School
Until 25 Feb 2017

Review by Kylie Pedler

Set against the grim backdrop of a women’s prison, Melissa Sheldon’s original work, titled “Jail Birds”, brings together seven women from very different worlds who’ve been thrown together because of their incarceration.

From the opening number, sharp and polished, it was evident that this was an ensemble effort. The talented cast of prison inmates, Annabel Matheson, Kate McNaughton, Bella Drioli-Phillips, Mimi Le, Charlotte Proudman, Lilian Danvers and Amaya Diaz-Parrella are compelling storytellers. Their performances are both dramatic and emotional. They are also well supported by the prison guards played by David Arcidiaco, Rachel Jones and Pat McAuliffe.

The simple open stage, framed by a barbed wire fence enabled flexibility for the different scenes and space for the characters to explore their relationship with each other.

As the new girl on the block, Phoebe York (Matheson) deals with her anxiety and tries to find her place in a new environment, which is not unlike the country club she once graced but didn’t fit in. Meanwhile, the other prisoners, find their alliances and defences swayed.

Moving between past and present, the stories of these women unfold and are effectively intercepted by songs from influential women; Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani. Who would’ve thought there was a place in a prison for the lyrics of “Material Girl”, “I Should Be So Lucky” and Hollaback Girl”? These musical interludes offer an opportunity for these women to express their inner turmoil, and escape from the reality of their situation while enabling the audience a moment of reprieve from the emotionally confronting and unsettling events that have led to this moment. Whether gazing through the mesh of a fence, dancing around chairs or harsh metal beds, the choreography was powerful and meticulous.

As these women explore their sexuality and search to find themselves, the audience is invited to question who is actually guilty and is reminded not to judge too quickly, because there is always two sides to a story. Betrayal, deception, fear, envy, desperation. There are many reasons for the decisions we make.

But one decision this February, should be to see this powerful piece of theatre.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)