“This is the bit of the job I love. Loved. The human-contact bit, the breaking-the-ice bit. The breaking-into-a-smile bit”
Clean Break have often come to the Soho Theatre to showcase their work in London (the Charged season a great example) and so it’s little surprise to see them return with Joanne, five mini-plays weaving around the titular character, a woman struggling with life we never meet but whose presence is fiercely felt. All five monologues are performed by the one actor, the excellent Tanya Moodie, and detail the experience of people working in the system that is failing Joanne.
So Chino Odimba’s Stella sees the social worker made redundant, celebrating at her leaving do rather than thinking of the girl she met on release from prison that morning. Ursula Rani Sarma and Deborah Bruce introduce respectively a police officer and an A&E receptionist who despite their kind-hearted intentions, can’t quite manage to give Joanne the help they know she so desperately needs, their frustrations at an overworked system most palpable.
Theresa Ikoko gives us the more brutal reality of Alice, qualified with an MBA but only able to get a job as an operations manager at a hostel, her bitterness blinding her to the people around her. And Laura Lomas lastly breaking hearts with the teacher whose lack of intervention at a crucial earlier age had severe repercussions. Tied together by Moodie’s sterling performance, they’re a fascinating combination, each exploring the nature of responsibility to others.
For all the power of Róisín McBrinn’s production though, there’s little dramatic complexity to Joanne, the format of splintered monologues doesn’t quite manage to coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts. But if it didn’t pack the emotional wallop I was expecting, it certainly engages with its painfully all-too-true depiction of the way our public services have been decimated by austerity and authority.