The Aldridge Studio, The Lowry
Part of WTF Wednesday in association with Word of Warning
Written and performed by Stephanie Ridings
Directed by Jonathon V McGrath
Cute cat GIFs are interspersed with websites for prisoners seeking penfriends or girlfriends or wives. The screen behind Stephanie fills with images of death row prisoners seeking love and a disturbingly literal happy ending. Did you know that the fourth biggest selling Author in the world, Danielle Steele has twice married prisoners? Her second wedding took place in a prison canteen after her fiancé was reincarcerated after cheating on her by raping someone else!
Stephanie is a lovely engaging woman who has just had a certain birthday and lives in Warwick with Stumpy her partner of 12 years and her one eyed fluffy housecat. She has a family with some issues and stressors based in Blackpool. She takes antidepressants but feels they may not be working. She is a performer and likes to research her subject matter thoroughly.
The show uses a blend of screen images and video interspersed with Stephanie telling the story of how she moves from internet research and ordering books from Amazon to corresponding with Jonny incarcerated on death row to being the last image he sees as he receives a lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas.
The brilliance of this performance is Ridings curiosity and how her bewilderment with the women who form relationships with these men moves to her own burgeoning connection with Jonny and his sister. The subject matter is difficult and highly sensitive regardless of how we view the death penalty yet Ridings is never preachy or judgemental. Sitting in the front row as she sits opposite it feels like having a surreal coffee with a girlfriend who has just visited death row on her holidays.
The tiny details make the most potent impact in this show- the institutional smell of Jonnys’ letters or the tiny windows in the prison or the view from a diner which faces Huntsville death room to the glorious lake views on the 45 mile trip from Prison to the Huntsville. Ridings has taken a huge personal emotional risk in making this piece of theatre and there are moments of genuine discomfort at her vulnerability and her decision making. The closing screen images of text messages appearing as she is trying to salvage her relationship with her partner are genuinely touching. It reminds us all of how universal is the need for love and connection whether we are at home in a faltering relationship or in solitary confinement on death row.