In a country ‘somewhere in the world’, a visitor (Donald Sumpter) looks for life’s meaning and hears the story of the prisoner Mavuso. Having killed his father, Mavuso – played by the very talented Hiran Abeysekera – is given a special punishment. Rather than going to prison, he sits outside of it, staring at it until he decides he has served his sentence.
Brook and Estienne try to examine the ways in which justice is self-imposed and how forgiveness is found through self-discovery, but they do so with a thin, slow-moving, and under-scrutinised narrative. Questions about incest and familial love sit uncomfortably at the periphery but are never fully explored, particularly with Mavuso’s sister Nadia – stoically portrayed by Kalieaswari Srinivasan – whose voice is barely heard.
Sumpter’s visitor is also uncomfortable. He plays a European man who seeks to unearth profound truths and ‘forgotten’ traditions from an ‘exotic’ land (it doesn’t help that this country is denied any specificity or complexity), and his role of bookending the piece leaves us questioning who this play is for and why.
The best moments come from little jolts of humour, including a lovely and haunting scene when Abeysekera’s Mavuso befriends a rat. And the sparsely decorated stage, with scattered yellow grass and a prominent tree stump, complements the minimal but effective lighting.
But though The Prisoner is visually appealing and offers some strong performances, it is let down by slight and clunky storytelling. It feels especially out of touch against the backdrop of thought-provoking and incisive new writing that abounds in London’s theatre scene.
|What||The Prisoner, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
12 Sep 18 – 04 Oct 18, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|