On The Inside is a fictional dramatization of a young woman’s recent experience in the Canadian prison system. It was the hardest and most emotionally devastating piece of theatre I’ve ever witnessed. Theatre is a forum which can be used to raise awareness of important issues–this show is so impressively executed and the reality it presents so absurd, I have hope it may even mobilize civil action, not just awareness. But for this to happen- -you’ll need to go see it.
On The Inside was inspired by Ashley Smith’s life, and to quote from the show programme:
“Ashley Smith was a young woman from New Brunswick whose story has ignited widespread critique of Canada’s prison system. At fifteen years old, Ashley Smith threw a crabapple at a postal carrier that ultimately landed her in a federal institution for women. The mistreatment that she endured and the helplessness that she felt culminated at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener in 2007.”
This play begins with the character Tracey Obi, played by the remarkable Kelechi Ofoha, strangling herself on the floor of her prison cell.
According to the United Nations, 15 days of solitary confinement is considered torture. Ashley Smith endured 1000 days of solitary confinement.
This play explores how a situation such as this can even transpire, by developing scenes around the prison guards and nurses who work in the institution. As one correctional officer (played by Ryan Christopher Kotak) succinctly puts it, as a response to a conversation he has with a coworker on subjecting inmates to solitary confinement, “it’s to make our lives easier.” This production spends due time demonstrating how the prison system necessarily alienates the workers that are in charge of its operation, at the demise of its inmates.
When a prison worker does manage to retain conscience in the midst of these devastating events, as actor Marnie Wohl-Bennett strikingly portrays with her character Nurse Sharon Kineski, there are no substantial ways to ameliorate the situation, other than offering attentiveness and genuine friendship. But her attentiveness, while meaningful on a personal level, does not overpower the actual structural system which keeps Obi imprisoned.
As it is a docutheatre production, there are researched facts displayed and incorporated into the performance. A projector screen is illuminated between scenes, and presents sobering realities about the prison system, and Ashley Smith’s life. Although the factual elements of this production demonstrate how truly horrific this truth is, it only works in conjunction with a strong cast of actors.
This production ultimately succeeds because of actor Kelechi Ofoha’s skilled embodiment of her character. The range of emotions she channels will move you irreparably.
On The Inside is a true honour and testament to the lost lives of these young women, and highlights the way our country supports a prison system that profits off of irrevocable injustices.
If you would like to volunteer with an organization dedicated to helping marginalized and at-risk women within the justice system, contact the Elizabeth Fry Society.
- On The Inside plays at the Tarragon Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is barrier-free. The designated accessible seating is in the middle of the auditorium.
- Friday July 7th, 05:15 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 03:00 pm
- Monday July 10th, 01:00 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 08:45 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 06:15 pm
- Friday July 14th, 11:15 pm
- Sunday July 16th, 08:00 pm
Photo of Kelechi Ofoha by Catherine Gava.