by Richard Vergette.

Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street WC2H 7JB To 9 February 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 4pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 0207 836 8463.
Review: William Russell 15 January.

Gripping – but likely?
The premise of this interesting and well-acted prison drama is frankly hard to swallow. John Daniels, a United States congressman – Obama makes him Secretary for Education during the eight year period the play covers – decides to embark on a stint educating a young illiterate man on death row in a prison in an un-named southern state by teaching him to read. The man, Lee Fenton, is there because he was found guilty of killing the congressman’s daughter.

So far so very unlikely. But what Vergette gives us turns out to be a fascinating examination of how, through learning, Fenton is turned into the man he should have been, but who, because of poverty, because of the society into which he was born, he had failed to become.

Whether it tells us much about American justice is by the by. Ryan Gage as Fenton and Peter Tate as Daniels play off one another very effectively, and the end packs an interesting sting which it would be wrong to reveal – but one liberates the imprisoned from the chains that bind at one’s peril.

Lisa Forrell has directed it with a sure hand, the playing, including that of David Schaal as the prison governor, is hugely accomplished, and Vergette keeps the tension rising. But as a piece about the oddities of the American justice system, especially in the South, it is most peculiar.

Lee Fenton: Ryan Gage.
Sam Jackson: Piers Foley.
Herb Stevens: David Schaal.
John Daniels: Peter Tate.
Warden: Stefan Majczak.

Director: Lisa Forrell.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound: Tom Lishman.
Fight director: Lewis Penfold.

2013-01-18 00:16:46

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