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Playing On presents

 

Inside

Written by Philip Osment

 

Directed by Jim Pope and Philip Osment

 

Roundhouse Studios

 

 12 – 27 Nov 2010

 

 

 

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Inside is the story of a prison drama workshop group aimed to help young fathers become better parents. Leaders Liam and Dom have a few tense weeks to help the young men create a piece of theatre which will be performed in the prison for the inmates’ families. Met by distracted and aggressive scepticism, the leaders use theatre to unlock the guarded minds of the young fathers and break down prejudices in order to build a unit of mutual respect. With water-tight writing, slick direction and compelling authenticity, Inside highlights both the inefficiency of Britain’s penal system and the delicate humanity of young men who have never been given the chance to leave adolescence.

From the moment you step into the space, the prison is alive with the gruff buzz of caged testosterone. The inmates encircle the empty stage, slouching aggressively on their plastic chairs like the cast of Dangerous Minds. The prison is a battle ground of gangs and protection, and the play tracks the courage it takes for these men to reveal themselves as they are asked to do in the workshops. The piece shows how drama can pierce the insecurities of big egos and bolster the confidence of unsupported talent. But as some characters develop, others regress, and we’re reminded of the circular battle of free will versus brutal and deterministic pasts. The hope is that by engaging with themselves through the nourishment of theatre, the young men learn that they can take control of their own actions, and become the fathers they never had. The fear is that they will become so disillusioned by the inadequacy of rehabilitation that they will take the law into their own hands, whether it be by breaking it, or enforcing it unlawfully.

The stage is flooded with natural and vibrant acting and there’s no weak link. Each character represents a personality who reacts differently to the drama sessions, the only unnatural thing being that no two characters attempt to occupy the same social space. But this is theatre, and its condensed lens is sharp, accurate and clear. Kyle Thorne earns a special mention for his loyal airhead characterisation of Damian and Segun Olaiya’s exhilarating skip-rope scene as Brownie has an intensity which ensures the audience’s attention for the rest of the show. Another star is Jacob James Beswick’s disturbed and disenchanted intellectual, Tommy, a character with the eerie violence of Steve Buschemi’s Garland Greene in Con-Air. Pope and Osment’s masterstroke direction which sees Tommy leave the stage (the only character ever to do so) in the closing scenes reveals the inherent exclusion of group work, and his electrifying return for the steely finale thrusts an icy message into the hearts of the leaving audience.

The key artistic feature of the piece is this magnetic direction. By using the edge of the stage as an invisible barrier, Pope and Osment lock the audience into the primary action, leaving the rest of the cast to linger menacingly in their surrounding cells. The beating on the cell walls intensifies the claustrophobia of the space and highlights the relentless impotency of imprisonment. Michael Breakey’s suggestive set captures the sparseness of a jail’s interior ingeniously; the skeleton pool table acts as a ghostly reminder of the negative effect of vapid décor and uninspiring surroundings, while Ian Scott’s stark white lights elucidate the barrenness of the environment, splashing focus onto never-private moments of intimacy.

Inside is a powerful example of theatre playing to its strengths. Its prison walls embrace dramatic tension and the subject matter is sincere but well garnished with comic breaks. In a time when the value (and expense) of theatre is being questioned by the funding government, Inside is proof that theatre holds a unique position as both a practical tool to help those who make it and as a window into pressing social issues for those who watch it.

 

 

Box Office: www.roundhouse.org.uk / 02074248477

The Roundhouse
Chalk Farm Rd
London
NW1 8EH

12th – 27th November at 8pm

Tickets: £10 / Conc. £8 / £5 (aged 25 and under)

 

 

 

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