Theatre Review: Beauty Is Prison Time

Disturbing drama about a real Siberian prison where beauty pageant winners gain freedom.

For a good evening out try visiting the friendly and elegantly refurbished Lion & Unicorn pub, above which is a new and stylish performance space run by Giant Olive Theatre Company.

Currently, they are presenting The Gaea Festival - a celebration of international women playwrights, performers, directors and designers. Beauty Is Prison Time, written and performed by Zoe Mavroudi, is a moving, thoughtful and profoundly disturbing piece inspired by a prison in Siberia where, astonishingly, beauty pageants are held for its women prisoners. The top prize is – freedom!

This is the background for a one-woman show which is, at one level, an assertion of the resilience of goodness, love and hope in the most desperate circumstances. At another, it is an ironic commentary on the early ideals and aspirations of the 1917 Russian Revolution. And there are many other levels too. In fact, I came away feeling that there was enough material here for a full-length play with a substantial cast.

The piece is meticulously directed by Terra Vandergaw. Beautifully written, it is a splendid vehicle for actress Zoe Mavroudi with excellent timing and the skills needed to portray moods and emotions of a character undefeated by cruelty and injustice, exploitation and bereavement.

It is performed on a stark, minimal set to evoke sometimes subtle, sometimes raucous, always accurate, pictures in the minds of the audience – which are more powerful, perhaps, than a realistic set.

* Showing at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Gaisford Street, NW5, until Wednesday, August 31.