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Writer: Edward Bond


Director: Gareth Corke


Lighting Designer: Steve Lowe


Sound Designer: Jack Harris


Producer: Berislav Juraic


Cock Tavern Theatre


17 Sept – 2 Oct 2010





A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

One of the early Royal Court playwrights to make himself an infamous figure in British theatre was Edward Bond. At a time when taboos were very rarely broken, Bond came in with a number of plays that challenged perceptions of violence and sexuality on stage. It could be argued that his work was the precursor to the in-yer-face moniker that became prevalent in the eighties and nineties, but he proved himself as a key component of that style through the years. So it’s no shock that the Cock Tavern has decided to pay homage to this enigmatic playwright with the Edward Bond season. Moving along through the six decades of the playwright’s career, each play is a reflection of his excellent body of work.

Today, though, my focus will only be on one of these productions – written in the nineties at the height of in-yer-face theatre, Olly’s Prison is an unabashed look at what drives someone to murder, and who really is to blame for these actions.

The play opens with Mike (Ewan Bailey) and daughter Sheila (Melissa Sheffield) at home; a simple request to drink tea turns into an argument (despite only Mike talking in what is a fantastically written and acted monologue), which then ends in murder. Unable to comprehend and properly accept what he has done, Mike turns himself in and spends ten years in jail. Tragedy never seems to leave the troubled man, though, and his time spent in jail and when he leaves are just as unfortunate.

Mike is the brutal representation of working class Britain, chewed up and spat out first by a dead-end life, then by the prison system. Despite his crime he roams around like an innocent man, a victim himself of a life he isn’t able to wrap his finger around. The character is beautifully written by Bond, but the kudos here definitely go to Ewan Bailey. The actor is absolutely outstanding in his portrayal, expressing emotions and delivering lines with such authenticity and vigour. As mentioned earlier, his almost-half-hour long monologue at the beginning of the play is excellent, and sets the tone for his performance for the rest of the play.

Even though it is Bailey shouldering the play for the most part, he is assisted by some other very strong performances. Elicia Daly is excellent as quasi-love interest Vera, as is Robin Berry in his role as corrupt police officer Frank. Most of the characters seem to float in and out in short stints, but all are important in their roles. James Kenward and Terry Jarmyn are good as Smiler and Barry respectively, the two prisoners befriending Mike. Charlotte Fields as Ellen, Melissa Suffield as Sheila (though not saying a single word) and Frankie McGinty as Ollie are great too, though used sparingly in very key points in the play. It’s a play that is built around the strength of its lead actor, and Bailey does not disappoint.

Technically too, the play is a winner. Some excellent use of sound and music moves the production along at a good pace and, despite the slightly long running time, keeps the audience engaged. Set and lighting was also very well done which, and though minimal, is enough to create the reality of the situation and lure everyone in. The direction, in general, was top-notch. Gareth Corke makes the most of the space, not restricting himself to the box in the middle, but taking the production to different parts of the room. In particular, the sequence leading up to a brutally violent scene in the second half is excellent, with music and lighting used expertly to turn something contrived into something very real.

I can’t speak for the other five plays on in this Edward Bond season, but I can safely say that Ollie’s Prison is a success. Be it acting performances, directing expertise or the technical aspects, the production is great in all accounts. And, of course, it is the writing that is being paid homage to here, and there is very little to be faulted there. A fantastic portrayal of an excellent Edward Bond script, and one not to be missed.




Tickets: £12.00 - £5   Booking fee applies: Age 18+

Season Tickets: £58 / £48 concessions

The Cock Tavern Theatre, 125 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 6JH


Box Office: 0844 477 1000






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