Intra Muros (Park Theatre)

Posted: April 8, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Alexis Michalik.     Director: Ché Walker

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

French playwright Alexis Michalik’s Intra Muros (rough translation: “within walls”) puts a prison in a theatre and a theatre in a prison. Working around the premise of an acting class for novices, the play could, at first, look more suited to a RADA lecture theatre than to a commercial stage, but, somehow, it defies the odds and wins us over.

The play, translated by Pamela Hargreaves, is getting its UK premiere here in a powerful, fully-committed and fast-paced production. Vertical bars are projected to the full height of the back wall and only a few chairs litter the stage, aside from musician Rio Kai. The writer suggests that theatre is a microcosm of all life, as inescapable as from a prison, and goes on to prove his theories with 90 minutes of comedy, tragedy, heartbreak and redemption.

Actor/director Ché Walker plays actor/director Richard, who is arrogant, self-obsessed and pining over a broken marriage. After losing his job as artistic director of a regional theatre, he returns to London, because that is where his contacts are, and finds that he has no contacts. With little else on offer, he takes a job teaching drama in a prison and Michalik’s play begins with him delivering a lecture on the meaning of theatre to just two inmates – Kevin (Declan Perring), convicted for armed robbery, and Angel (Victor Gardener) in for crimes of passion.

As part of the class exercises, Kevin, Angel and prison worker Alice (Summer Strallen) are asked to open up about their past lives, playing themselves and others. The actors take multiple roles, but, disappointingly, the writer fleshes out the women characters (all played by Strallen and Emma Pallant) less fully than Richard, Kevin and Angel. Michalik is demonstrating the power of theatre for weaving fictions and for revealing truths, but he teases us and we are never quite sure which of these the play is doing at any one point.

Intra Muros comes close to drowning in its own intricacies, but the play always redeems itself, often in the most surprising ways. As layers are peeled away and the stories become unexpectedly linked, the drama turns richer, more involving emotionally, clearer and yet, at the same time, more enigmatic. Perring in particular is adept at riding the waves which take scenes from light comedy to gut-wrenching drama, but all the acting is superb, providing ample proof of Richard’s point that actors become two people – themselves and the characters that they inhabit.

If charged with being introspective, self-indulgent and over-smart, Michalik could easily be found guilty on all counts, yet still, perhaps mysteriously, his play manages to be highly entertaining. This can be put forward to support a final proposition that, ultimately, whatever academic analysis is undertaken, the magic of theatre remains indefinable. QED.

Performance date: 5 April 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

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