This prison-set theatre satire deserves locking up
Any piece of theatre that includes an impersonation of exceptionally bad theatricals has its work cut out. As soon as you start messing around with the parody play-within-a-play idea or get real actors to act as fictional actors acting badly, it inevitable invites comparison between the real piece of theatre and its own on-stage spoof.
‘Intra Muros’ by Alexis Michalik, getting its UK premiere at the Park Theatre in a translation by Pamela Hargreaves, opens with a thinly attended drama workshop in a prison. Director Richard (played by Ché Walker, who also directs the actual play) is a big arts scene fish in the small pond of Norwich. Joining him for his tortuous masterclass is Jane (Emma Pallant), an actress who is also Richard’s ex-wife, and Alice (Summer Stallen), the dewy-eyed social worker who is also Richard’s new younger girlfriend.
The prisoners are Kevin (Declan Perring) and Angel (Victor Gardener). They both, through the miracle of attending Richard’s one boorish class, open up like delicate blossoms to reveal their entire life stories. And, as luck would have it, these stories intersect perfectly with those of Alice, Richard and Jane. How very neat! How very heart-warming!
The best thing about the production is the softly eerie sound design and music performed live onstage by super multi-tasker Rio Kai who skips back and forth between keyboard, cello and electric guitar.
But Michalik’s plot is magnificently unbelievable and involves characters – especially the prisoners – that are so clichéd and badly drawn they could, yes, have come straight from a teaching exercise created by Richard.
It’s all the more enraging when you consider the brilliant work companies like Clean Break do with real-life prisoners and other people who genuinely know a thing or two about the prison service and the use of theatre in these settings. But this, sadly, is just bad theatre about bad theatre.