Review - Intra Muros at the Park Theatre
Look out, Florian Zeller, the seemingly ubiquitous Parisian playwright who has had several West End hits! There's a new French playwright in Paris called Alexis Michalik, whose first three plays premiered in 2011, 2014 and 2016 and are each still running there today. And just as the third of those Edmond de Bergerac recieved its British premiere at Birmingham Rep ahead of a short UK tour, so his latest play Intra Muros - premiered in Paris in March 2017 - has now simultaneously come to the Park.
This psychological prison drama about themes of redemption comes to London hard upon the startling revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis's Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train (seen at the Young Vic) that similarly told the stories of two long-term prisoners coming to terms with the circumstances that have brought them there.
But whereas Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train was an electrifying demonstration of the power of theatre to humanise them, Intra Muros attempts something strikingly different: the power of theatre and play acting to offer therapeutic relief and personal discovery in a maximum-security prison.
Arbitrarily relocated in Pamela Hargreaves' translation to Norwich, the play sets up a meta-theatrical exploration of character in which theatre itself becomes the channel for discoveries about each of their pasts. It emerges, in the layered and twisting turns of the plot here, via a drama therapy session being staged for inmates by a professional theatre director and his former wife who is an actress.
Another meta-theatre dimension is added here by the show's director Che Walker himself playing the director in the play - complete with some slightly uncomfortable audience interactions to break down the fourth wall, too.
The gripping tensions of the constantly unfurling narrative is maintained by persuasive performances from the other four actors, and in particular Victor Gardener as the thick-set hard-man prisoner Angel and Declan Perring as his younger fellow inmate. It is also brilliantly underscored by Rio Kai as a live onstage musician and DJ.
Intra Muros is at the Park Theatre until 4th May.