James Kenworth’s Elizabeth Fry: ‘The Angel of Prisons’ is a site-specific biographical tale brilliantly directed by James Martin Charlton. The production is entirely free of charge leaving next to no reason for attending this powerhouse of a play. 

The company effectively share the essentials of theatre as Shakespeare declared it be: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. In a tightly packed room in Newham Library, Elizabeth Fry’s old stomping ground, the cast of 9 compact a decade of hard wrought labour reforming Newham prison, into 90 minutes of entertaining education. Elizabeth Fry’s story is a compelling tale of female suppression, so brutally caused by powerful men. 

The potential within the young cast exceeds that of some of London’s most successful companies. The depth of the emotional content is fully embodied by young actors from the local community, acting alongside the professionals with levels of talent almost their equal. Perhaps this is due to Kenworth’s ‘Pro-localist’ approach to producing or the essential nature of Elizabeth Fry’s story; that is still in dire need of conversation within government today.

The story is far from ancient. James Martin Charlton forces us to open our eyes to the reality of how current the issue of prison conditions is. With verbatim monologues from 3 women currently serving time for crimes of self defence, played by Ruthie Presh Lane; Anya Williams and Hayley Morson, Kenworth flips both sides of the coin, begging the question: what does one do when in an abusive relationship?  Is retaliation the only way out? 

Newham Library is a perfectly intimate theatre for this visceral tale. By stripping away the glitz and glam of the west end, but still hinting at the period with clear costume and a DJ set list to suit, the heart of the story finds an empathetic nuance. The company create an encompassing bubble, keeping us gripped from our cushions merely feet away from the action. 

Kenworth’s production is an inspiration for theatre makers across London. The ‘Pro – localist’ ethos, combined with facilitating a local community space, could be the answer to countless fringe and off-west end theatres having to close their doors across London. 


Review: Sebastian Calver     Photo: Adesh Sekhon