It’s almost a decade since the Maze prison at Long Kesh finally closed its doors, but in the 70’s and early 80’s it regularly hit the headlines.
Martin Lynch’s swift new play (a hit at last year’s Edinburgh festival) evolved partly out of interviews with Republicans, Loyalists and prison officers who had served their time in the Northern Ireland jail.
Mixed in with Motown music sung a cappella, it gives some idea of the human experience of being locked up – for one’s beliefs, one’s actions or even by mistake.
Rigorously choreographed and with enough energy to burst through prison walls, it focuses more on the inmates as individuals than on the political and religious background which divided them or (in some cases) the acts of violence which brought them there.
Narrated by prison warden Freddie (a mouse of a man who takes the job to support his family and encounters his own demons along the way) it covers the years from the beginning of internment, passing swiftly over some incidents (including a short-lived riot over a shortfall of sausage rolls) whilst painting a vivid picture of the escalation from blanket-wearing to dirty protest and the build up to the fatal hunger strikes.
Rich in comedy, intensely physical, and with little more than wooden crates for props, the production (directed by Lisa May and Lynch) grips from start to finish thanks to superb performances all round – particularly from Marty Maguire as hearty Republican Oscar belting out Smokey Robinson numbers, Marc O’Shea (vicious as a sadistic prison officer, likeable as dopey inmate Toot) and Chris Corrigan as depressive, thoughtful Eamonn, worrying, like his fellow prisoners, whether his wife will still be there for him at the end of his stretch.
Tricycle, Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JR Kilburn Tube (020 7328 1000) till 10th April (£10 – £20.00)