Intra Muros Review, Park Theatre
PUBLISHED: 13:53 15 April 2019
Alexis Michalik's prison-set dark comedy boasts strong performances and explores human fallibility, but is tonally uneven and strains for credibility
'What does theatre mean to you?' director Che Walker asks the audience in the first moments of the UK premiere of Alexis Michalik's Intra Muros.
The framing device shifts gear as Walker assumes the role of has-been director Richard who is leading a drama workshop in a maximum-security prison.
Walker expertly directs this meta-theatrical play with its multiple scene changes spanning decades and the ensemble is exceptionally strong. But the writing never settles: satire rubs up against bruising naturalism and a storyline about an estranged daughter and her incarcerated father strains for credibility.
The context and the details of the inner-workings of the penal system are vividly caught and organically woven into the characterization of the only two inmates who attend the workshop – titanic, silent Angel [Victor Gardener] and wired, sexually reptilian Kevin [Declan Perring].
Through a couple of warm-up games and hot seating - also involving young, naive prison worker Alice [Summer Strallen] and Richard's brittle ex-wife Jane [Emma Pallant] - a collective exploration of past guilt and human fallibility ensues.
Actors morph between multiple characters: the appearance of a posh parole officer bribing Angel is particularly chilling. Perring's performance as Kevin is physical dynamite; deadening his eyes while his body is in revolt.
The burgeoning friendship between Angel and Kevin is sensitively portrayed. Rio Kai's live music is subtly omnipresent.
The comedy has its moments: tongue in cheek theatre swipes are always pleasing and caricatured bumbling Richard lying about his age to get the lovely Alice into bed is neatly performed by both, though Richard interrogating her during sex about whether she preferred his Antigone to his Clytemnestra plays for easy laughs.
The play's basic premise is that theatre's vital function is to tell human stories and ease reconciliation; we're all trapped between walls [intra muros] without a creative outlet.
This much was never in any doubt though. Likewise, the talent of these players is unquestionable. But the soap storyline about Alice's fantasy [or is it real?] reconciliation with her long-lost dad is clumsy and contrived and the game playing is ultimately just that bit too convoluted.