Synergy Theatre Project's production should be a runaway success: an intense, highly charged, darkly comic and claustrophobic creation, which in Trafalgar 2's tiny studio theatre places us directly in the prison space with two inmates, their warders and a young female lawyer.
All are highly charged and motivated and thus violent confrontations are inevitable, yet writer Stephen Adly Guirgis does not take sides or act as referee so it is left to each of us to form our own opinions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, morality and the power of religion as both a corrupting and a healing influence.
The play, first seen ten years ago, centres around Angel Cruz, a young Puerto Rican, awaiting his trial for shooting a preacher "in the ass", and his interactions with serial killer Lucius Jenkins, an Afro American who has found God and forgiveness. During their daily hour-long cell release the pair get to converse on life and death, responsibility, guilt and forgiveness, and the play attempts to explain the motivations behind their actions and to explore the way in which prison, their society and backgrounds affect their attitudes.
Set on a bare stage, with its white tiled rear wall and a single cage frame which neatly separates the area down the centre, it allows each inmate their allotted space, into which only the warders ever enter, and then only to handcuff and remove them.
This unique production, directed by Esther Baker, boasts an impressive cast, several of whom are ex-prisoners and one of whom spent four years as an officer in HMP Brixton.
Of the two warders, Ricky Copp's humanitarian D'Amico contrasts well with Dominic Taylor's sadistic, brutal and vulnerable Valdez. Theo Jones as the lost angry Angel becomes a foil and a red rag to Ricky Fearon's calm but powerful presence as Lucius, a man who has come to terms with both God and himself and found the peace to accept his position.
In contrast Denise Gough's portrayal of Hanrahan the lawyer is a pent-up and passionate performance, revealing a mixed up young lady full of guilt and out to prove herself both as a woman and a lawyer, committed to her cause but unable to foresee or prevent her ultimate downfall.
This company, dedicated towards the rehabilitation of prisoners and ex offenders, deserves to be seen and heard by a larger audience than its current venue will allow. A must see.
- Dave Jordan