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Friday 12 August 2011

The Quick, Play by Stephanie Jacob, Tristan Bates Theatre, London, 4* out of 5

Jo and Megan are cell-mates in a woman's prison in the North of England. Jo has a temper that can flare and explode into uncontrolled violence and in such a state she committed the crime that has landed her in prison again. Here she shows disdain for the rules and for those in authority. Megan is the soft vulnerable type that likes to help where she can. Unfortunately, she has helped her lover and heroin-dealer once too often. As a result serves a long prison sentence and has had to escape her heroin-addiction. Megan's caring personality and affection for her cell-mate make an impact on Jo, but her emotional world really gets shaken and stirred when she is told that the victim of her violent crime wants to meet her.

What is a tough yet effective approach to dealing with the consequences of violent crime? Restorative justice is a process in which victim and perpetrator of a crime, hopefully in a carefully prepared mediated setting, if both are willing to do so. What does such a dramatic and emotional meeting risk and what can it achieve?

I am usually inclined to be sceptical, even scornful about theatre-plays that are pedagogical and support a politically correct message. The Quick ticks both these boxes, yet, admirably, it manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of its intentions and genre.

At the core of the quality of a good play is the writing. It is evident that Stephanie Jacob has engaged deeply with her subject and has written all the characters of her play and their relationships in a very realistic, differentiated and credible way. Next, the pool of acting skills available in this country never ceases to impress me. Every character in this play is well acted, but the portrayal of the mercurial Jo by Josephine Rogers is a tour-de-force that by itself is worth the price of the ticket. Another outstanding performance is given by Alasdair Craig as the victim of her vicious crime. Both Rogers and Craig manage to capture key aspects of their character through an accomplished physicality of their performance. The chemistry between Jo and her cell-mate Megan (Grace Willis) is presented very credibly, too. Director Lucy Richardson has done an excellent job too, the violin music between the scenes underlines the atmosphere and a reminder of the cruel consequence of what Jo did to her victim.

This is certainly not an evening of light entertainment, but for those who are ready to have their preconceptions questioned (or confirmed) in a high quality, moving and sincere performance it is a very-good investment.

Some months ago the Tricycle's Theatre's production of “Afghanistan” was shown in the Pentagon. An unusual but highly worthwhile experiment: theatre can activate parts of the brain traditional forms of communication cannot reach. A performance of The Quick to both Houses in Parliament and senior civil servants could be timely and beneficial to the quality of the discussions and decision-making on crime and punishment in the wake of the riots in London and other English cities.

1 comment:

  1. Such an evocative, thoughtful and sensitive review. Received with much appreciation.