Writer and Performer: Marcus Hercules
Reviewer: Holly Sharp
“When prison is your world, how do you function within society?” a question that the vast majority of your bog standard theatre goers will never find themselves facing. Programmed as part of HOME’s PUSH Festival promoting ‘new and extraordinary’ work, Prison Game, a one-man show by Marcus Hercules, promises a brutally unsettling insight into one of the first generation of “Starred Up” criminals, a term describing the contentious practice of transferring juvenile offenders deemed exceptionally violent into adult prisons. Hercules bounds through 80 minutes of immensely challenging subject matter and a score of characters aided only by a spotlight, a small wooden chair and a recurring, writhing dance to Arrow’s Hot Hot Hot.
It’s a winning premise, but after an endearing welcome into a carnival atmosphere and drumming up a nice bit of audience rowdiness, Hercules’ myriad of characters suffer from a lack of nuance that leaves one feeling a few steps behind and yearning for a rewind button. His unrelentingly rapid speed of delivery is testament to a performance that unfortunately prioritises energy and volume over capturing the subtle texture and complexity of differing perspectives and personalities. While the premise is strong, the execution fails to deliver the true power of the story.
That said, audience experience may have improved significantly had the production team not elected to have a photographer taking flash photography throughout the show. Starting off at with at least one flash and click every 30 seconds, these thankfully reduced as more and more audience members turned round to offer pointed death stares though this didn’t stop the photographer having several whispered conversations and checking their phone throughout. For a one man show offering such complex and thought-provoking subject matter, not to mention one where, unsurprisingly, you were asked to turn your phone off on entry, this was ill-advised to say the least, not to mention somewhat disrespectful to an audience.
Strong subject matter and an admirably energetic performance are let down by a lack of subtlety and direction. Along with questionable production decisions made on this particular evening, Prison Game regretfully feels less of a game and more like a chore.
Runs until 21 January 2016 | Image: Contributed