The work of the Koestler Arts Trust must be commended. Annually they hold a competition for inmates in the UK and abroad, each year the winners' work is produced professionally.
Here we see seven of these prisoners' short plays along with two more who are written by ex-offenders and Koestler Arts Trust winners Michael Holland and Dean Stalham.
The evening started with Revive by Nicholas Matsvairo, a story about last trains and first kisses. Along with Stephen Barraclough's Shipmates the writing felt clichéd. This proved a slow start to the evening, which wasn't helped by the third play Grooming. This piece and The Business Plan which was performed right after the interval are scenes from Lucy Edkins full length play 'Lure of the Night.' Although both scenes held interest for the audience they did not work as individual pieces. It would have been far more enjoyable to see the whole play and gain a greater understanding of the world of prostitution and the women who participate in it.
The last play before the interval, If the Cap Fits by Dean Stalham used inventive word play to transform the common portrayed bar scene into an obscure experience for the audience, never truly clarifying the power dynamic in this intriguing three-hander. The second act began with the first of two plays by John Wrigglesworth which unfortunately, did not always hit the mark. The two pieces included Listen, a heartfelt monologue from a prison inmate and Taking the Piss which although was an interesting idea could use some development. Based around the plight of prisoners being drug tested, what starts as an analysis of the inmates' relationships with each other and their wardens becomes a piece based on a punch line.
These nine plays covered many different themes including the fate of young lovers, prostitution, the pain of divorce and drug taking in prison. All the writers proved that they had distinct voices and every play was compelling in some way. However there were two stand-out pieces throughout the evening.
Ian Nicholson's Window Shopping describes to the audience the positive effects of being a shoplifter, not just for the sticky fingered thief but for society at large. Michael Mills performs this witty monologue with plenty of charisma, portraying perfectly his characters' playful nature. Match Fixing by Michael Holland was another comedic piece with an important issue to discuss. What is more important to Tony his fiancé Jan or his love for Milwall? The answer to the question is tested when both Tony's wedding and the Millwall playoff are scheduled for the same day. The accomplished writing allows what may have become a derivative piece feel fresh and new. This was also helped by the use of the Frank Sinatra's 'Love and Marriage' being interspersed between each short scene. Mark Carleton as Tony and Minnie Crowe as Jan make a believable young couple, while Michael Mills stands out again as their priest Father McCluskey.
Prose and Cons is an interesting theatrical experience as nothing about the direction (by Ben De Wynter, Giles Faulkner, Johnny Harris and Gemma Kerr) or acting can be faulted. The simple set lends itself to every play and lighting, designed by Steve Miller, is instead, used to differentiate the varying locations of the plays performed. However much of your enjoyment may come from knowing how writing these plays must have been a cathartic exercise for its authors. Although some plays fare better than others over the duration of the evening, I would gladly see any work written by theses seven playwrights in the future.