Friday, 13 July 2018

REVIEW: Locked Up at the Tristan Bates Theatre

This premiere of a new play written by Heather Simpkins, Locked up, produced by bear in the air productions and staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre is to be applauded for its intent: a London professional debut for the author and a young theatre company trying to develop new talent. The premise is simple, Declan , played by bear in the air founder , Samuel Ranger finds himself in a small brick room ten paces by ten paces square with no obvious door or windows when he suddenly finds he is joined by Topher, played by Connor Cook. Should they trust each other in order to work out where they are, why they are there and how to get out?

It is a sort of cross between Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgames as the relationship between the two men plays with the truth and reality of their situation and the threat of an unseen force outside of the room. In both these plays the room itself is like a third character. However in this play the room is implied by a low wall and grey curtains that flutter as the cast move and the action never consistently grabs the attention of the audience. In part this is as a result of the limitations of the venue and production budgets although in the Park Theatre’s Building the wall, the claustrophobic confined space of a cell was created much more effectively. 

The structure of the play is a series of short scenes punctuated by a row of “blinders” aimed at the audience to prevent them seeing the arrivals and departures from the cell. I found the constant use of these lights irritating and led me to speculate whether the two actors appeared by rolling to a hide in the front low wall or clambered over the side walls. This became a distraction which together with the coughing, dropped cups and awkward laughter of the audience undermined the efforts of the cast to establish tension and intrigue. Most of the action takes place off stage in the unseen white room and there is very little physical interaction between the two characters. In the end it felt quite a long fifty five minutes.

Samuel Ranger's Declan is the dominant character, establishing the monotony of his situation pacing out the size of the cell, singing 99 beer bottles or imagining playing a golf course. These moments provide light relief at the same time as establishing the character, or at least projecting a character. Topher is less outgoing, a communications manager with a guilty secret but we are never really engaged by either of them beyond wondering what the reality is. There are moments when the tension rises between them but when the final denouement comes, the surprise is not the reveal itself but the suddenness of the ending.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Unreserved | Price of Ticket: £15
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