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Locked Up by Heather Simpkin at the Tristan Bates Theatre | Review

Locked Up: Conor Cook (Topher) and Samuel Ranger (Declan) by Rosalind White photography
Locked Up: Conor Cook (Topher) and Samuel Ranger (Declan) by Rosalind White Photography

Imagine your worst nightmare. For many of us, it would be the thought of being abducted off the street and then locked away from the world with no idea where, why or what the future holds. This is the central theme of Heather Simpkin’s new play Locked Up which is playing in Soho’s Tristan Bates Theatre.

In a small room – roughly ten paces by seven paces (depending on your foot and leg length – sits a man (Samuel Ranger). The room is devoid of furniture and the lighting is dim. The man sits alone, he stands, he shouts out to know what is going on but the answer comes there none. Time moves on and suddenly there is another man in the cell with him. The two of them exchange wary greetings. The newcomer introduces himself as Topher (Conor Cook) and the first says he is called Declan. Since neither knows the other, they are very suspicious about each other. Time moves on and they begin to talk. They speak guardedly of why they believe they are in this place and they also talk of the enigmatic White Room to which they are each occasionally taken. Pressure mounts as the never changing days go by and both Topher and Declan feel the pressure of their small cell and the constant presence of the other. Will they be able to survive whatever is happening to them or will the pressure build to a point where one, or maybe both, cracks up?

Locked Up is a brilliantly written observation of human beings under real pressure. We, the audience, are watchers dipping in an out of Topher and Declan’s lives as and when we wish. Unable to influence only to observe we are as powerless as the two men locked in their cell. Heather has created a very realistic world where, particularly in the opening sequence, we see how the human mind tries to adapt to circumstances, as Declan seems to go through a modified version of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) in different ways. He tries shouting at his unseen tormentors, he exercises, he comes up with the world’s most irritating song, he offers information, and finally, he seems resigned to his fate. Then Topher arrives and the two of them go through a version of the four stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) as they get to know each other more. This quick precis may sound rather dry but Heather has put a lot of first-rate humour into the script which really humanises both the men and their situation.

On the creative side, Locked Up is a real collaborative effort and the combination of Justin Williams & Jonny Rust’s set, Euan J. Davies lighting and Jac Cooper’s sound together with James McAndrew’s direction makes this a first-rate production from start to finish. The audience, like the protagonists, lose track of time and, although the play only has a running time of just over an hour, it is difficult to tell how long we had been observing Declan and Topher.

The two actors were both first class and portrayed their respective characters extremely well. Virtually every emotion was wrung out of them and both Cook and Ranger played every ounce of themselves to bring Topher and Declan to life and make their cell seem even more realistic.

Overall, there are some brilliant elements to Locked Up. There were things, such as the ambiguity of the captors that were great being left to the imagination. In my mind, I know exactly who they were but I can’t tell you in case I disappear like the lads. I also liked how the author seemed to address some of the practicalities of Declan and Topher’s living arrangements quite subtly. However, I have to say my favourite part was the ending. Obviously, I’m giving nothing away but, in my mind, I was prepared for one of four endings to the play. When it did come, there were actually a few gasps of astonishment around me which was an excellent and very honest reaction to the fine writing and acting in front of us. My one criticism with the play is that it’s too short, I think this could easily have been a 90-minute production which would have really lifted the tension up a notch or two and taken Locked Up to a new level in the psychological drama stakes. As it was though this is an excellent piece of writing, that thanks to a great cast and fine production, keeps the audience on the edge of their seat throughout.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Two men are trapped in a confined space which they interpret as their cell. Since being taken against their will, the only world that exists for them is that cell and an enigmatic White Room where there are few clues to their immediate predicament…

Desperation grows as Declan (Samuel Ranger) and Topher (Conor Cook) try to find a way out and discover answers to their questions. As the tension builds both characters reflect upon each other and their situation. Will they buckle under the strain of emotional endurance or can they remain rational enough to piece together the twists and turns of their absurd situation?

LOCKED UP is a powerful, slickly written story that explores trust, betrayal and comradeship in times of trouble. It directly engages with the current political and social landscape whilst addressing the nature of integrity and honesty in everyone, from the most powerful to the voiceless and vulnerable in society.

BEAR IN THE AIR PRODUCTIONS presents the première of LOCKED UP, a gripping, wryly humorous new play written by Heather Simpkin.
Tristan Bates Theatre
Running time: 1hr 10 minutes
Directed by James McAndrew
Cast: Samuel Ranger (Declan) and Conor Cook (Topher)
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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