Key Change: good cause, bad art
North-east-based Open Clasp is a theatre troupe very much of its time. Since 1998, its raison d’être has been to ‘give a voice’ to marginalised women, holding to the view that ‘theatre changes lives’. It’s an organisation that, for all its worthwhile work bringing theatre to the underprivileged, has a fair whiff of the sort of arts-funding instrumentalism that has burdened the British cultural establishment in recent decades; namely, the need to be seen to be doing good with one’s work, rather than just doing good work.
Key Change is typical in this regard. Telling the stories of four female inmates, it explores, with some aplomb, the shared experiences of domestic violence, drug use and sexual abuse that often lead women into a life of crime. It’s grisly and affecting at times, light-hearted and funny at others, with monologues split up by choreographed routines to the tune of Florence and the Machine, Amy Winehouse and Faithless. But this clanging contemporary soundtrack, accompanied by self-aware asides about how best to end the show, creates a sense of self-consciousness. It begins to feel narrow, a therapeutic experience for the women who might relate to it, rather than a piece of art that exists on its own terms.
Productions from similar troupes, such as Clean Break’s spellbinding Little on the Inside at last year’s Fringe, have proved that a good cause needn’t mean bad art. But in boiling down so easily to ‘a message’, Key Change feels somewhat shackled.
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked.
Key Change is at Summerhall until 30 August.