Olly's Prison

Edward Bond
Cock Tavern Theatre

Olly's Prison production photo

Originally written as a screenplay, filmed by the BBC in 1991 and broadcast in 1993, this is Bond's own versionof Olly's Prison for the stage, already mounted by the Berliner Ensemble and at the Avignon Festival but here receiving its first British production.

It begins with a long scene in which widower Mike addresses his unresponding daughter, a wonderfully immobile Melissa Suffield. It goes on almost longer than one can endure and director Gareth Corke has it played without time for thought, almost on auto-pilot which emphasises that her silence and immobility is already a longstanding situation, though later Ewan Bailey's mixed-up Mike is played much more naturalistically.

Neighbour Vera, who comes in to clean, is obsessed with Mike as a potential partner and, when he goes to prison for his daughter's death, waits ten years for his release. Elicia Daly gives her an optimism to hide her desperation.

Quite why daughter Sheila refuses to speak or how policeman Frank first came into the picture I didn't get, but Frank, made sinisterly matter-of-fact in Robin Berry's performance, seems to be a source of grief for everyone, in some way a figure for a corrupt establishment in a play that looks at ideas of accepting and attributing blame.

The production frames its scenes with a formal structure as furniture is reset for different locations, and this serves to throw some powerful performances into greater relief, especially Charlotte Field's Ellen as the mother of a youth who has knifed another lad and blinded him in one eye, and Frankie McGinty as the victim Oliver.

It is the metaphorical prison in which Oliver finally is trapped that gives the play its title, not the actual prisons where many of the scenes are set and where Mike encounters Ellen's son, cocky Smiler (James Kenward) apparently so confident but unable to face life outside, and the whining Barry (Terry Jermyn).

Olly's Prison is a long and somewhat painful journey and fight arranger Lawrence Carmichael has given it one of the most unpleasant beatings up you are likely to have seen, but in Bond's work the violence is never gratuitous.

This is the first of a series of six of Bond's plays, each written in a different decade, that this enterprising theatre is presenting between now and 13th November 2010

"Olly's Prison" runs in repertoire until 2nd October 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton