Pros: A pacey and humourous piece of new writing.
Cons: The show needs a bit more space to breathe, as playwright Heather Simpkin attempts to pack too much character development into too little time.
I will be the first person to admit that, after spending the day in a hot, crowded office, the prospect of seeing a show about two people trapped in very close confines did not fill me with unadulterated joy. Fortunately, the Tristan Bates Theatre is one of those rare beasts – a fringe theatre that doesn’t get hotter than the face of the sun in summer – so my initial misgivings were quickly soothed.
Locked Up revolves around Declan and Topher, two strangers who get to know one another under unusual circumstances: locked together in a room, by unknown people, in an unknown location, for an unknown amount of time. Topher is happy to distract himself by talking to Declan, while Declan is suspicious of Topher and therefore initially reluctant to share. Nevertheless, the two men develop a bond as, bit by bit, they reveal what landed them in this situation.
The set up might sound Pinteresque, but the outcome is often surprisingly funny. One of my favourite scenes was a game of imaginary golf that results in a debate about which type of hypothetical club is best for this particular fictional shot.
Overall the writing is rather slick, which doesn’t necessarily work in the show’s favour. Locked Up certainly lacks a sense of grittiness, which it may have benefitted from. The result often feels like an exercise in the tying together of TV tropes, a feeling that is sadly confirmed by the ‘shock ending’. (Although a number of audience members did actually gasp at the big reveal, so perhaps I just watch too many crime dramas.)
Samuel Ranger and Conor Cook turn in fair performances as Declan and Topher respectively, although the script does demand a lot of psychological twisting and turning across the mere 50 minutes of running time. I’m usually all in favour of short and sweet, but in this case the actors really needed more time to gradually build up to the show’s emotional climax. On the other hand, the fast pace does keep the audience engaged throughout, and so despite the noise of a warm summer’s evening in the West End filtering into the auditorium, my attention didn’t waver for a second.
An appropriately sparse set, courtesy of Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, does an adequate job of illustrating the men’s predicament, but could have done with an added dose of claustrophobia. Euan J. Davies’s lighting design – the most notable feature of which is frequently blinding the spectators with some very bright lights directed straight into the auditorium – is simultaneously very atmospheric and bloody annoying.
All in all, Locked Up is the very definition of ‘a mixed bag’. Despite its flaws, though, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining outing.
Author: Heather Simpkin
Director: James McAndrew
Producer: Bear in the Air Productions
Booking Until: 28 July 2018
Box Office: 020 3841 6611
Booking Link: https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/locked-up