by Philip Osment.
Roundhouse (Studio) To 27 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 4pm & 26 Nov 2pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 8008.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 November.
skilfully tapping the truth beneath the shell.
Towards the end of Philip Osment’s play the characters, mostly young adult male offenders – and mostly Black – line-up for applause. And we clap. But we are not their audience; they have been performing their devised theatre-piece, based on experiences of having, and being, fathers, to the wives and children who’ve come to see them.
If there’s nothing new under the sun, nor is there within the spare, metallic prison where a couple of inmates might want to act, but most become involved to escape boredom. Michael Breakey’s setting makes this clear – if they’re not in the drama activity, or playing pool, they’re abandoned to their selves around the edges, the only communication being bangs and shouts through the walls.
What slowly emerges from the mockery, aggression and short-tempers of frustrated young men is, inevitably, vulnerability, something they’ll fight like anything to conceal. Aided by Black student Dom, whose sexuality causes an explosion of disgust from one Black prisoner but finds acceptance from others, drama-leader Liam negotiates his class towards overcoming fears and the disruptive influences among them (this is largely Browne, whose own change happens silently).
The trickiest moment, for the characters and for Osment’s play, is the overnight assignment for each prisoner to write an imaginary letter to their father. Slowly, the disappointments beneath the boasts and suffering beneath the aggression emerge, a vital step on the way to honesty and moving forward.
The problem is, the play itself moves forward more slowly in the separate scenes here, with each prisoner isolated round the edges in subdued lighting. Yet these quieter solos and occasional duo are a necessary step for the characters, a tough process searching beneath their public behaviour.
Of course it’s not so simple as everyone giving up a life of crime now they are fathers – reality’s still out there. But the excellent ensemble acting of contrasting characters makes the final words of hope and aspiration towards change believable in Playing On’s development of a National Youth Theatre project. Unsurprisingly, for it’s one that’s been tested on the inside of both prison and Young Offenders’ Institute.
Jamal: Michael Armstrong.
Tommy: Jacob James Beswick.
Olu: Ayo Bodunrin.
Hasan: Tarkan Cetinkaya.
Aswan: Darren Douglas.
Brownie: Segun Olaiya.
Liam: Jim Pope.
Dom: Andre Skeete.
Damian: Kyle Thorne.
Direcxtors: Jim Pope, Philip Osment.
Designer: Michael Breakey.
Lighting: Ian Scott.
Sound: Paul Millen.