In a perfect pairing between subject matter and production company, Synergy Theatre Project has revived American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2000 gritty, street-smart prison drama to compelling effect.

Set on death row in New York’s Rikers Island prison, Esther Baker’s taut, unfussily staged production (her assistant director is a lifer who, presumably, knows all about incarceration) casts ex-cons along with professional actors – and one can’t tell which is which.

Convicted black serial killer Lucius is awaiting extradition to Florida where he faces the death sentence. Puerto Rican Angel has been locked up pending trial for shooting the leader of a religious cult “in the ass.”

Their crimes seem very different, yet the legal system makes little distinction between the two.

Overseen by a sadistic, self-righteous prison guard (his compassionate colleague gets sacked), their heated exchanges raise questions of the nature of guilt, the justification of criminal behaviour and the possibility of redemption through religion.

An unnecessary atmosphere-breaking interval is a mistake, but that’s a minor niggle easily outweighed by the impassioned performances from Ricky Fearon as born-again, proselytising, ex cokehead Lucius, Theo Jones’s alternatively belligerent and confused Angel, and Denise Gough as a tough, determined defence lawyer who risks her career for what she believes to be right.



Trafalgar Studios (2), Whitehall, SW1A 2DY  (0844 871 7632)  till 24th April £17.50(Mondays £15.00)