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The Theatreguide.London Review

Olly's Prison
Cock Tavern Theatre   Autumn 2010

Edward Bond could never be accused of being a jolly playwright, but this 1993 television script must be among his very glummest, not tragic or angry, but just depressed and depressing.

I can think of no use of the word 'enjoy' that could apply to this play, though students and fans of Bond may well want to see this first UK stage production, part of a two-month Bond season at the ambitious Cock Tavern Theatre.

A man grieving for his dead wife and alienated from his daughter impulsively commits a crime that sends him to prison for ten years. (Though it doesn't come up, the circumstances are such that a halfway decent lawyer could have got him off on a lesser charge, though that implicit irony may be part of Bond's dark vision.)

Prison is a grindingly soul-destroying experience punctuated only by a failed suicide attempt and the successful suicide of another inmate.

Eventually released, he is unable to adjust to the version of normality offered him, and is drawn to the mother of the suicidal prisoner, who shares his dark fatalism. But a vengeful and insane cop is determined to send him back to jail, even if he has to victimise someone else in the process.

I've actually omitted a couple of characters, but everyone in the play is miserable, and miserable in ways that they and the playwright can see no way out of.

A programme note says the script was written 'as a response to the end of the cold war and what the author perceives as the failure of socialism', but there is nothing so simple as blaming the system here, or offering (or bemoaning the lack of) an alternative.

If anything is holding the little people of this play down, it is not a political or social structure, but the nature of the universe, and there isn't a whole lot of hope for a playwright to offer if he begins from that premise.

Though it is clear that the television version would have benefited from the solid and gloomy reality of sink estates and prison halls, director Gareth Corke makes do with the resources available, and among some uneven secondary players Ewan Bailey and Charlotte Fields create convincing characterisations of hopeless depression.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Olly's Prison - Cock Tavern  Theatre 2010


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