Park Theatre, London ★✩✩✩✩
IT’S just too apt that this flimsy, interminable piece of meta-theatre from the French writer Alexis Michalik should be set in a prison (the title means ‘within walls’) — imprisoned is exactly how the audience will feel, about 20 minutes in.
A washed-up, narcissistic theatre director, Richard, is attempting to engage two prison inmates, Kevin, a volatile lech banged up for armed robbery, and his bookish, taciturn mate Angel, in a theatre workshop.
Unsurprisingly, neither inmate is remotely interested in pretending to be a cat, or each other, despite an increasingly stressed-out Richard’s attempts to encourage them, but when Richard suggests they share a childhood memory, the play abruptly accelerates backwards into each man’s tangled life story.
From here on in, plot points start proliferating like fungal spores, each one more preposterous and implausible than the next, and gradually ‘connecting’ in lurid ways that concern the parentage of Alice, a prison social worker who has an ulterior motive for staging the workshop in the first place.
Quite what the workshop is actually meant to achieve, however, is anyone’s guess: I imagine Michalik thinks he is presenting some clever thesis about the transformative powers of storytelling but, if so, manipulative would be a better word — poor Angel ends up exploited rather than transformed, while the audience, confronted by a flat-out ridiculous sequence of events, have cause to feel the same.
You can’t fault the hard-working cast, which includes Summer Strallen as Alice and Ché Walker, who also directs, as the self-obsessed Richard — the sort of man who likes to mention his production of Hamlet when in bed, but there’s no disguising the fact this is a dog’s dinner of a play.