The story of Helen Jones is inspired by the life of Ruth Synder – an American housewife who, after beginning an affair, murdered her husband and was then imprisoned and executed by the electric chair. You can imagine Chicago, but without the glamour and songs, and with more dread and death.
The staging was well thought-through, with the small acting space delineated by white tape, with only a window and door outlined, which, from the off, echoed the minimalist prison cell the murderess, Helen Jones, inhabited at the end of the play. Additionally, when not in character the actors sat on either side of the stage intently watching the action, again forecasting a later court scene. These layout choices emphasised greatly the inescapability of the young woman’s situation.
In terms of acting, there were no weak links in the ensemble. Each actor multi-rôled and almost all the actresses played the tormented lead character in turn. Flora Denman and Georgina Fairbanks both portrayed Helen Jones’ fragility and desperation elegantly, and from the men it was Abram Rooney who stood out, particularly as the prosecution lawyer where he portrayed age very believably.
Although essentially concentrating on the female experience within ‘the machine of life’ (and anyone a bit keen on women’s studies or history will enjoy the many references between the woman and the moon, and the fallen woman symbolism), the play speaks to anyone who is dissatisfied with ‘the system’. Perhaps oppositely to Helen Jones’ situation, whereby there is a lack of opportunity and she feels constrained to follow a straight, narrow path from work, to marriage, to childbirth, today we have an overwhelming amount of possibilities and choices which can make us feel equally powerless and restless.