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Olly’s Prison

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Cock Tavern’s two-month Edward Bond festival provides a great opportunity to take a rain check on one of our most significant contemporary dramatists who continues to slip in and out of the public’s awareness.

England’s most difficult, uncompromising dramatists – Bond, Howard Barker, Gregory Motton – sometimes flourish more often in Germany and France; Olly’s Prison, a 1993 teleplay directed by Roy Battersby, has already been seen on stages in Berlin and Avignon.

It’s more than worth a close-up look: tough, gruesome, extremely violent in its study of blame and versions of innocence. Not many laughs. Those left behind take revenge. A house-cleaner tries to take advantage.

The plot accelerates at a hectic pace in a bitty, sawn-off structure not ideally suited for theatre; Gareth Corke’s resourceful, snappily organized production tries to keep pace. The climactic fist fight is one of the best, and most upsetting, I’ve ever seen.

Ewan Bailey’s bear-like Mike is a little too cuddly and impenetrable. Melissa Suffield (Lucy Beale in EastEnders) plays half an hour of stillness and silence with a rare concentration.

The choice performance is Elicia Daly’s as the Irish neighbour, devious and devoted, but there’s a fire and purpose running through the whole presentation: good soundtrack and stage-management, too.


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