[Review:] LOCKED UP, Tristan Bates Theatre, London.

When I first entered the studio, I was greeted with a wonderful aesthetic: a square stage with raised walls, the interiors of which appeared as stone; Samuel Ranger (playing Declan) sat in the corner, holding his legs to his chest; and low, macabre lighting. The music, a sort of rhythmic drone which played constantly throughout the whole of the performance, added a repetitive, taxing and mysterious undertone.

However, almost as soon as the play began, it felt less effective. There were certain choices made that I felt unoriginal. For example, Ranger’s walking-on-the-grid, which, yes, seemed somewhat well-integrated into the performance, seemingly elongating Declan’s prison sentence, but it seemed as well to lose its character when both prisoners made this same movement. It became less of a quirk of Declan’s to cope with his captivity, and, rather, a quick and easy metaphor to introduce the passing of time and an evasion from ennui. Another moment which hinted towards the passing of time but in an ineffective way was, for example, when Ranger sings ‘99 Bottles of Beer’. It would, of course, be effective to sing this repetitively in a manner which demonstrated Declan’s slow breakdown. However, Ranger sung this in a rather upbeat fashion. When he did, finally, ‘break down’ towards the end of the song, the breakdowns seemed almost too rehearsed and identical. It needed some variation. Each verse was sang in the same way, and it felt more of an attempt towards dramatic effect and, to an extent, comedy, rather than a true and realistic representation of the character and his thoughts. This was especially true when he restarted the song in the same cheery way.

As for characterisation, both actors lacked energy in places. Ranger was extremely monotonal, from his expressions of paranoia to that of his character’s personal identity when talking to Topher (Conor Cook), to his screaming. This was a similar case for Cook who, whilst being only the slightest bit more refined in his physicality, seemed to be much better at performing scenes of fear and supplication than scenes of serious integrity. But I felt that this was perhaps also due to a restriction provided by the text (written by James McAndrew). Whilst repetition would have been effective in creating a sense of time and place, there seemed to be an overuse of repetition concerning the dialogue as well. Characters would repeat the same lines again and again, especially Topher’s line, ‘I know these people’. This line in particular made it difficult for me to comprehend the relationship between the two characters. As it was said in practically every scene, I could not understand why Declan – who was supposedly so paranoid and anxious about the intentions of Topher and hence who would have sussed things like this out from the very beginning, being in such a mindset – would have not realised this sooner. This development of plot felt inefficacious because it seemed obvious to me from the very beginning. It was not a natural development, nor a type of dramatic irony, but a sort of inherent, obvious part of the plot. Most of the dialogue, in fact, was repetitive and banal, seemingly used just to create an easy, stereotypical (and overused) sense of mystery: “What do they want?”, “You don’t know what they’re capable of.”

The plot twist at the end, however, was most effective, mostly because it was not hinted at continuously like this former plot development. However, the rest of the plot seemed so texture-less for me that I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by this end. It was a marvellous twist, but I was so, unfortunately, uninvested that the effect wasn’t as powerful as it could have been.

Problems also rose in the transitions. The actors were extremely heavy on their feet, making the transitions – the loud whirring sound effects excluded – very noisy, and this took away from the action and suspense. This was also unaided by the lighting. At first, the lighting was impeccable. The bright lights on the audience not only alluded to a pressing interrogation but also cloaked the actors’ movements during transitions. However, around the fifth or sixth transition, the pace of scenes started to quicken and the eyes were already adjusted to a bright light. This made the lighting less effective and actors became visible. It would have been better to trick the mind into thinking that the eyes had to readjust, by simply brightening the lights progressively during transitions. The bustling; the visible sliding from out of the corners of the set; the waiting in the positions they will be found in in the next scene; these took away from both the element of surprise but also the world of the play itself. However, whilst I tend to dislike music that is played throughout a performance, the music was very effective in establishing a suspenseful and perceptible passing of time. During the transitions, the music was changed to an eerie and unrelenting whir, making the play easier to digest and giving variation to an otherwise univocal pace.

It should be noted that the audience of the night I went seemed to love the performance. However, I also got the impression that these spectators were familiar with the performers or with the theatremakers themselves, by the way they spoke of the actors, suggesting that the spectator-audience relationship had an effect on their response. It was hence hard for me to engage with their reactions as I would have with members of the general, unknowing public. They all mentioned a “double plot twist” and were very enthused by this. But, as I mentioned, whilst I did feel that the second was quite powerful in itself (even if it was underwhelming due to its precedents), the first wasn’t a plot twist at all, rather an obvious and banalised yet unrealistic ‘development’.

“A good direction but in need of redrafting and of variation in performance.”

2.5 Stars

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