The Cell

Michael Crowley
Bad Ideaz Productions
Three Minute Theatre (24:7 Theatre Festival)

The Cell

Michael Crowley wrote his 24:7 play based on his experiences in prisons, and so, however unbelievable some of the events are, he can probably cite incidents from real life that are similar. He has certainly done his research.

We begin in, unsurprisingly, a cell in a prison, where the conversation between the prison officer, Mr Scully, and the young prisoner, Kelly, reveals that there is some kind of a hostage situation here, although everything seems relatively amicable between them. However the real situation is not what we may expect, and to reveal their true relationship, which dictates the action for the rest of the play, would spoil the surprise.

This clever switch-around is used to highlight lots of issues about the treatment of prisoners—especially "nonces" or sex offenders—and corruption and collusion of prison officers. The issues are woven around the story of an incident that morning when a prisoner was put into hospital by a prison officer, a young prisoner who hanged himself in the next cell with suggestions that prison officers either failed to check on him or deliberately left him to get on with it and some deeper issues in the families of both prisoner and officer.

Having said that the writer obviously knows his subject, occasionally events aren't dramatically entirely convincing, but these are minor points in a play that manages to be intense and even quite compelling for most of its length. The ending is quite shocking and certainly grabs the audience for the final dying moments of the play, although I would question whether the story has fully prepared the ground for this to happen. There are a few elements that come across merely as dramatic devices, such as the revelation that this barely-literate prisoner is an avid reader of Pablo Escobar, the reading of the Tarot and a rather odd and unconvincing breakdown speech for Scully speaking into his radio.

The most compelling performance is from David Barlow as prisoner Kelly, who is absolutely convincing throughout the play. Paul Regan as Scully often comes up to his level, but there are times when he is less convincing. James Shaw gives a great voice-only performance as Robbo, shouting through the window from another cell, but writer Crowley's performance as prison officer Mr Lavery doesn't have the depth of the other actors.

All in all, this is a powerful piece of theatre that was a great opening show for me for this year's 24:7 Theatre Festival and definitely worth a look.

Reviewer: David Chadderton