1970’s Britain. In a cramped prison cell sit two criminals isolated from the rest of the world.
Barred Freedom, a new piece of writing by Eugine Ambrosse with two different casts comes to one of London’s more hidden spaces- The Cockpit Theatre.
The script is set to be gender neutral, with the two casts alternating each night and two different directors. On this performance, I was reviewing the female cast which was directed by Ambrosse.
The audience enter to find our two leads on stage. A metal bunk bed, a table and chair and a barred door are all that make up the space of the cell the prisoners know as home. Wentworth has only known life in prison for three hours, but Dawson has almost always seen it as an ‘occupational hazard’. Their only connections are with other prisoners (when they’re allowed out of their cell), and a bully prison guard called Deacon- played by Frances Keyton. Wentworth; played by Carys Wright is down for murdering her spouse in a violent outburst. She’s well spoken, highly educated and nervous about her future in a prison. Her cellmate Dawson (played by Amy Damara) is down for theft and is a cockney slang speaking Londoner who can’t read or write. As you can imagine, the pair are not exactly suited to spend their lives in prison in the same cell as each other. As the play goes on, together they manage to find ways of connecting by giving each other advice and hope for their futures and becoming friends.
Both leads are ultimately brilliant actors. Carys plays Wentworth as highly-strung, very fussy and extremely on edge. The only downside is that perhaps she’s too young for the role, Wentworth has supposedly been married for ten years and has children- and while she clearly can act the role, Carys’s playing age certainly isn’t over twenty-five. Amy Damara as Dawson provides a lighter perspective to prison life and has excellent comedy timing, but also silences the audience laughter in more tender scenes.
The Cockpit Theatre is ideal for the play, and the thrust stage allows the audience to see clearly both leads at all times whilst also feeling enclosed in the confined space they are allowed to use. Only the prison guard ever enters and leaves the cell and this gives the audience awareness of strict rules and the unnerving feeling of captivity. Wentworth and Dawson use the space they have well considering it’s limited.
The script has potential but needs cutting. The first act leads up to what we believe will be the escape of Wentworth and Dawson, however when act two comes- it’s fairly disappointing to see that it never actually happened. It’s a long play but comes with no ultimate climax and leaves the audience wanting more from the story. Saying this, I believe for a new piece that it was an admirable first performance and looks very promising with some work.
Barred Freedom has potential to be a very good play, with some cutting and changes it could be even funnier and more heart-warming. If there’s a reason to go see the show, it’s to see some brilliant upcoming actors and the start of what I am sure is to be a superb drama.
Reviewed by Ellie Devonshire