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I imagine that prison would be endlessly dull. And that's a tough quality to represent dramatically - boredom. Sophie Besse, in her debut play, "A woman inside" (Etcetera Theatre, Camden, until May 6 2012) certainly avoids that. This beautifully acted & intense drama is about both brutality and tenderness, about dehumanisation, but also about the triumph of human qualities. No simple oppositions or cliches here.

The two central characters are inside, inside a cell together, but prison is also seeping into them. The guards get inside them - quite literally during the body searches; the smell and dirt gets inside one inmate, a beautician ... but Sharon, the violent, disturbed prisoner also lets music get inside her. Eventually and cathartically, she starts to get some of that inside out.

Sophie Besse has worked as a therapist in prisons and has taught drama to women prisoners. In the play, the women guards also occasionally let their guard down - they are women inside too.

There is no simplistic moralising in the play. Sharon is a tough nut, whatever she has inside, and whatever has toughened her. There are real victims to her crime. Guard number 1 puts on a protective, professional mask when she needs to. And daffy Barbara may be a loving mum, but it takes Sharon to remind her how selfish she has been to her daughter.

The intensity of the drama is amplified by the smallness of the pub theatre; the still louche surroundings of Camden Lock on a darkening evening is just the right context for those marginalised stories that we continue to have to learn to live with.

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