THEATRE / No Remission - Lyric Studio, London W6

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The Independent Culture
We're all in this together,' says Victor (a bank robber) to his two fellow jailbirds (killers), in a quasi refrain which smatters through Rod Williams' play. You want to believe it - comradeship would appear to be the single comfort in an otherwise relentlessly brutal prison existence - but the more he says it the hollower it sounds. What this play forcefully dramatises is that 'togetherness' can only be applied ironically to the cramped, dehumanising physical conditions. In such a hostile environment the individual's impulse for personal survival obliterates the humanity that friendship demands; trust has no place where suspicion is instinctive. Clearly Williams enjoys draining words of their disparate meanings, and the play's title gets a similar going over: as one prisoner learns that he will not be given official Remission, another discovers that there can be no remission from the hell that is prison, and none from the solitary hell that is himself.

The playwright has obviously done his homework and displays a fine ear for jailbird argot (nicely plumbed with the men's unwittingly witty absurdities) as well as a good feel for the shape (the siege outside the cell heightens the tension of the siege-mentality within) and pace of a drama. But it is his handling of the many layers of fiction that each man wraps around himself both to keep a terrible truth at bay and to manipulate his relationships that impresses most and keeps everyone guessing to the last appalling moment. In the first preview, however, the combination of the speed, density and aggression was too winding. Nevertheless, director Derek Wax has drawn ferocious performances from a distinguished cast. Pip Donaghy exudes wheedling dishonesty (recalling Pinter's infamous caretaker Davis); Daniel Craig contains his violence like an unexploded mine; Rob Spendlove's jagged frustration reveals a savagely damaged psyche. A debut of great promise.

Continues at the Lyric Studio, W6 (081-741 8701) to 15 August.

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