Barons Court Theatre is the perfect setting for this play, situated in the cellar of a pub with an eerie ambience, stone walls and an intimate performing space. There is a camp bed, two chairs and a small bedside table so it is instantly clear that it resembles a prison cell, from both the set and the theatre space. Chris Leicester writes and directs a two-hander, set in a high-security prison, where former police officer John Gray (played by Paul Findlay) and convicted murderer Connor (played by Vinny Fox) find themselves in the same cell. John has murdered his wife and is now hiding from the other inmates in the prison as they are trying to hunt him down to kill him, but Connor takes him under his wing to hide, as they move around the prison. Amongst their conversations, they discover their paths have crossed in the past. The script is gritty and full of potential for two actors, but the execution seems a little lacklustre at times.


 Chris Leicester optimises the space, with moments of direct address, simple but clear lighting changes as well as using minimal set of a bed and two chairs to establish location. Sound is used effectively, even if the quality isn’t top-notch, creating a wider sense of the world they are in. We hear the riots of the other inmates and the reactions from the guards. At times the threat of them being on the run isn’t entirely believable, for example, the idea that a high-security prison would allow two inmates to run freely between rooms or the fact that Connor finds a landline phone in the boiler room. However, the best part of the play lies within Act One, the dialogue is sound and both John and Connor have clear characterisations and motivations. Act two becomes a little predictable, with the dialogue falling into a slight ‘show not tell’ tendency, showing the difficulty of pulling off a two-hander. Despite this, every scene felt necessary and gripping, even if they could be developed with more complexity.


 The takeaway of the play isn’t entirely clear either, is it a direct comment on our police force as it reinforces the distrust between police and a community, echoing the story of Sarah Everard who was murdered by a police officer? Or is it something more personal between Connor and John as men? There are clear themes of humanity within it, which are the strongest parts of the play, showing how we are often so quick to label ourselves and others in society. The dynamic where Conor and John find themselves as equals, even though John is in denial of ever seeing himself as a criminal and inmate is really interesting and could be played on more. 


There is a satisfying ending which revisits a scene from the beginning. Conor is at a school where he discusses his life as a criminal, while schoolchildren are laughing at him for being too nice to ever be a real criminal. The play is peppered with ideas to not judge a book by its cover, which is perhaps at the heart of the show. Both actors do well to sustain their circumstances and characterisation for the whole 90 minutes. This play has a nail-biting concept and with some refinement in both the action and direction, it could go onto bigger things. I would love to read and see more work from Chris Leicester. 


Review: Isabelle Tyner