Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Three astonishingly versatile young actors portray three newly released prisoners struggling against the odds to go straight. Release is not just an excellent example of a devised multi-disciplinary performance, it is an important issue play for today.
I don’t know about prison but flyering definitely works.
A hardened veteran of fifteen fringes, I pride myself on how skilled I am at refusing to take flyers. But sometimes I soften, and like other reviewers (I hope) I quite like to see at least one show on the Fringe because of a flyer, or more precisely because there is something about the person who gives me the flyer which suggests their show might also be worth seeing. So when I was very politely handed a flyer by a bright-eyed young woman who then recognised me and praised my performance from a past year, I immediately knew she not only had good manners and an engaging twinkle in her eye but also very good judgement, and so I promised to see her show if I could. I did, and I am now very happy to be able to return her praise with a five star review.
Release, by Icon Theatre at the Pleasance Dome is not only a shining example to other young companies of how to devise and perform multi-disciplinary theatre, mixing versatile character-driven acting with stylised sequences of accomplished dance moves and athletic physical theatre, utilising mobile scenery, well-judged projections, and a thumping soundtrack – it is also a well-researched, informative and moving exploration of a hot contemporary issue, with the potential to affect an audience’s views and so perhaps change society for the better. I would even say, with the determination of the current government to overfill our prisons with young people in their predictable knee-jerk crackdown on those involved in the predictable riots caused by their divisive social policies, this is an important piece of theatre.
Kyle, Hitesh and Becky are three young prisoners, newly released and all struggling to stay on the straight and narrow, with housing, jobs and even reliable love and friendship all hard to find when one has a record. What crimes they have done in the past is not really important – we never do learn why Hitesh was inside – although Becky’s reluctant telling of her story, in which she is more victim than criminal, is an emotional punch to the audience’s guts. The real story is of the courage and determination (and luck) they need if they are to succeed in their efforts to simply live normal lives again. If their stories are representative (and the two years of research which went into the making of this show suggests they more than probably are) then it is no surprise that two thirds of UK prisoners re-offend within two years with odds stacked so heavily against them – a situation which the cuts will only make worse.
The three excellent young actors play multiple roles and effect such astonishing transformations that for several scenes I genuinely believed there were more than three in the cast. Shane Shambhu who plays the restless Hitesh, is almost unrecognisable as the placid, studious, traditional Indian dance loving hostel resident who mesmerises both the audience and Kyle with his explanation of how to represent Shiva the God of destruction. Verity Hewlett as Becky is a wound-up spring of ex-junkie nervousness, and then reappears transformed into an ever-so-eager and rather prim rookie probation officer. Paul Tinto’s two roles are not so bi-polar, but he is no less an actor for that and as Scottish thug Kyle his gleefully told story of crab-fishing will be one of the highlights of my festival.
The creative team are described in the publicity as top quality, and this is born out in the production values. The choreography (movement director Steve Kirkham) is highly physical and tightly disciplined. The set (designer Mamoru Iriguchi) comprises mobile screens which serve as platforms, walls, doors and projection surfaces. Lighting (David Miller) and sound (Chris Warner) are also marshaled effectively under the assured direction of Nancy Hirst.
As a play, some elements of Release are occasionally a bit cliched – the characters, though brilliantly acted are all a touch stereotypical, and some parts of the plot seem a bit contrived – but the whole production is so well executed it is difficult to imagine how it could be improved and it thoroughly deserves five stars.