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Held

Tina Jay
Produced by Tina Jay and Richard Elson
Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden

Finn (Jack Brett Anderson), Cal (Duran Fulton Brown) and Ryde (Anthony Taylor) Credit: Richard Elson
Finn (Jack Brett Anderson) and Cal (Duran Fulton Brown) Credit: Richard Elson
Jamie (Jack Brett Anderson) and Sleat (Anthony Taylor) Credit: Richard Elson

Tina Jay recently wrote of her play Held that she hoped it would “shed light on the realities of male prisons, but also... show people that we are all the same.“

Set in a bleak and brutal prison environment, Held consists of two sections derived from the earlier plays Walking and Dog City.

The first section takes place in a prison cell over a period of two months in which a young, good looking new arrival Jamie (Jack Brett Anderson) resists the offers of his older cellmate Sleat (Anthony Taylor) to be given contraband such as a 'phone from prison bully Ryde (Anthony Taylor) in exchange for sexual favours.

Jamie speaks about the violence that got him into prison and the love he has for his wife and child. He also begins prison English lessons and starts to write creatively in a notebook. We only get to hear a few lines of what he has written when they are read out mockingly by Sleat.

In a rare moment alone, he reveals in monologue that he has had an abusive childhood.

The second section of the play gives us the love story of Finn and Cal that runs in parallel to the earlier section. The two men regularly meet in a toilet area where apparently you can remain for hours having sex undetected by prison officers.

The younger Finn (Jack Brett Anderson) is flirtatious and needy with the older, tougher Cal (Duran Fulton Brown) who enjoys what they have but is more cautious about the risks.

At times, they are visited by Ryde (Anthony Taylor) who is determined they will be part of his plan to sexually assault another prisoner.

None of the characters are sympathetic. All of them seem violent and obsessed by sex.

The slightly stilted dialogue of the first half becomes more choppy and repetitive in the second half making it harder to follow exactly what they are talking about.

It is difficult to believe in these characters and almost impossible to care what happens to them. The early drift to the sentimental by the second half becomes fully blown melodrama.

This show does not help us understand very much about the prison system or those caught up in its process.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna