100 100 Plays Presents: Inmates & Outliers
I’d usually imagine that the type of person that enters a rehabilitation centre is in need of some extra guidance. A bit of gentle care, yet with a firm grip – the same thing that a lot of students need on a Sunday evening after a busy weekend. I know that’s probably what I needed.
Instead I found myself being shepherded into a dark Venue 2. The furniture was pushed back against all the walls, with a ‘sign’ for a ‘rehabilitation center’ projected on the wall. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows and the projector’s beams were the only sources of light in the room, eerily illuminating the dimming town beneath us. Directed towards a desk in the middle of the floor, I was told to sign in my name, and hand over my belongings. I had found myself at On The Rock’s 100 100-word play: Inmates & Outliers.
‘Stand in three straight lines please.’ ‘Please have your passports and papers at the ready.’ ‘You are now free – walk about. You’re free!’ These were some of the orders that were barked at us as I clung on to the two other reviewers I had hastily made friends with as we exchanged confused glances (see, it wasn’t just me). If intimidated, tired and embarrassed is how inmates or people at rehab or whoever we were supposed to be are known to feel, then the writers did it beautifully.
I would love to tell you the plot, but I can’t. I would love to tell you how the stitched together pieces of plays, of human experience, flowed into one another like water pouring from cup to cup, but I can’t. I would love to tell you that I loved it… but I can’t. I don’t know whether this tells you all more about my own capacity for cultural understanding, or that I should probably be worried that, as an aspiring writer myself, my lack of understanding and compassion for this exercise probably indicates that I will fail miserably and end up ghost-writing reality TV stars’ autobiographies. But at least you can commend me for being honest before I sell my soul for a well-paid writing job.
What I experienced on Sunday night was one of the most uncomfortable and random cultural episodes I’ve ever had in my sheltered little down-to-earth life. I found it hard to focus on the dialogue because I was so busy worrying about what we were going to be asked to do next, and in a vicious circular way I lost the thread entirely. I didn’t like being referred to as ‘inmates’ because I was unable to let myself go entirely into the experience, and I feel that the breaking of the fourth wall was forced and unwelcomed. The one line I took with me was ‘thoughts become relics every day.’ Beautiful, but lost on me in that moment.
Maybe I’m too British and prudish for this sort of experience, as to me – a bit like praying is for others – my enacting upon my love of art is something always done in private. But, when Inmates & Outliers came to a close, I found myself no less enlightened than I was at the start, and even resentful of the student actress who shook all our hands as we shuffled out in a single line. We had been institutionalised by the one thing that is supposed to do the exact opposite, and so when I found myself being asked to write my name again on the way out, as well as one word to sum up the experience, all I could bring myself to scratch down was ‘Hungover’. I think in future I’ll settle for a packet of cheese & onion crisps and some Irn Bru.