Prison Wings**** (St Saviour’s Church)

Posted: May 30, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews –

Great things can sometimes crop up in the most unexpected places – like, for example, an angel in a prison or perhaps a theatre in a church. Tucked in behind Harrods, St Saviour’s is still used part time as a place of worship and, for the rest of the time, it is put to several other very worthwhile uses, including serving as a small theatre. An original pointed Gothic arch stands in well for a proscenium arch and performances take place in altogether splendid surroundings. Darren Raymond’s one act play is set in a prison and he takes on the central role of Ryder himself. Ryder is 10 years into an 18 year sentence, hoping for but not expecting parole; he is hostile to prison officers, he refuses to share his cell with any other inmate and he has disconnected himself from his wife and son. His world changes with the arrival of a young first offender, Charlie (Eddie Thompson). Ryder reluctantly accepts him as his cellmate for one night only before proceeding to bully and intimidate him, but Charlie stands his ground and then makes the astonishing claim that he is, in fact, an angel on a mission. An opening scene in the Governor’s office seems to be paving the way for a bleak drama depicting the cruelty of prison life, but, once Charlie sets foot in Ryder’s cell, what we get is a riotous comedy, reminiscent of Porridge. The dynamics of the pair’s relationship are similar to those between the old lag Fletcher and the naive newcomer Godber in the classic sitcom, but here the humour is edgier, slightly surreal and peppered with up to date references. Raymond and Thompson make a memorable double act, their comic timing being spot-on throughout. However, as in most good comedies, the humour is underpinned by the main characters being given depth and becoming fully fleshed out. Ryder is proud but damaged, resentful of the solitude that has been forced upon him, but only responding by adding to it. Charlie is streetwise yet innocent, refusing to allow Ryder to trample over him and never wavering in believing his supernatural claims. There are times when religious themes threaten to encroach on the comedy, but Raymond the writer deftly sidesteps temptations to preach and he comes up with a genuinely touching ending. St Saviour’s does much excellent work in amateur dramatics and deserves wider support, but this should not be the main reason for going to see Prison Wings. This is a professional production and can only be fairly judged as such. Although a little rough around the edges, it is, in terms of writing and acting, top class and it offers a highly entertaining evening.

Performance date: 29 May 2014

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