- Anahit Behrooz
- 13 August 2019
A devastating account of the prison system
There is a Beckettian sense of expectation that pervades the beginning of Solitary, a waiting for something to happen. The unnamed protagonist goes through the same motions again and again – urinating, eating, reading, exercising, sleeping – in the small, enclosed space of the stage as an eerie, claustrophobic sense of déjà vu manifests; yet this is no cyclical foray into existentialism but something far more disturbing. A horrifying examination of life in solitary confinement, Solitary stands as a powerful indictment of a prison system that allows these atrocities to happen.
This impact derives largely from Solitary's skilled use of physical theatre. Told entirely wordlessly, the play relies on movement and staging to convey the psychological torment of its situation. Actor and co-creator Duane Cooper is astonishingly controlled and fluid, his prisoner moving with a strength, grace and delicacy that underlines his humanity in a system that has long denied it. Visually as well as aurally scarce, the small cast depends on a handful of props that are used to forceful effect: a length of rope in particular acts as the boundaries of the room, shrinking and entangling with the prisoner as his agency and grip on reality fragment and strain.
Nightmarish at times, Solitary is made compelling by the beauty and compassion with which it is told. It's an uncompromising piece of theatre that makes visible what has long been shut away.
Assembly Rooms, until 24 Aug, 9.35pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).