Solitary (5 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: James Cuccio

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).


  • 5 stars

Dutch Kills Theater Company Right now, there are between 60,000 and 80,000 people held in solitary confinement within United States prisons – many of whom have served months or even years in extreme isolation. Nearly 80% of these inmates will be released back into society, where they will be expected to face the…