Arcola Theatre, London
Release, winner of an Edinburgh Fringe First Award 2011, is on tour in South England. Conceived as part of an in-depth investigation into issues related to ex-convicts' re-integration into society, Icon, Kent-based touring company, focuses on the lives of three characters: two young men and a young woman.
The three stories are representative of what it is like for those prisoners on probation who try to re-integrate back into society. Admirably, Icon theatre company manages to represent issues but also to tell stories of rounded characters with a complex and difficult background.
Hitesh, estranged and isolated, tries to keep away from troubles and keeps a cash-in-hand job in a garage but ends up having an affair with his probation officer; Kyle, rebellious and disillusioned, haunted by a drinking problem, shares his flat with a sweet and hard-working Indian flat-mate, who knows very little about his past; Becky, nervy and insecure, frantically tries to find a job because she wants to be back with her little daughter, who is in care.
Not all the three stories end tragically; not all three victims are outcasts but the message is clear: re-integration and probation are not easy processes.
The success of this production is its ability to make you feel for the convicts, to enter the world of these people, who have made big mistakes once and might commit the same again. The show is a rich and complicated emotional journey that does not judge the characters.
The success, together with some good directing by Nancy Hirst, is the acting of the incredible three cas memberst, who have so much energy, so much precision in the many scene changes and so many skills in doubling up between the main three characters and the smaller characters. Shane Shambhu is a convincing bad boy and a sweet Indian nerd; Jason Harvey is solid, self-indulgent delinquent Kyle and a caring florist; Verity Hewlett is the best of the three, as lower-class Becky and as authoritative probation officer.
What is less convincing is, instead, the mixture of movement, physical theatre and video-projections. These made the scene changes a bit sloppy and unnatural and did not add much to the strong performances and stories. The music and the sound are both quite weak in adding an unnecessary layer of urgency that, as the stories unfold, becomes quite redundant. The music, trying to give a filmic feel to the production, is both unoriginal and ineffective. The sound in the Arcola Tent got mixed up with outside interferences.
More parsimony would make this production even more remarkable; yet, the acting and the power of the stories are both triumphant.
Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli