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Theatre Review Shook, Southwark Playhouse London

Timely indictment of how young offenders are failed by prison system

THE PAPATANGO New Writing Prize never fails to deliver a stimulating work and this year’s winner is no exception.

Samuel Bailey’s timely debut play takes us behind the peeling walls of a young offender institute where three 16 to 17-year-olds — Cain (Josh Finan), Riyad (Ivan Oyik) and Jonjo (Josef Davies) — are taking “shit parenting classes” to escape the menacing monotony of prison life.

New prison instructor Grace (Andrea Hall) is tasked with trying to teach nappy changing and CPR, but keeping the boys’ focus proves to be her greatest challenge. All three are facing long sentences and although they have dreams of making lives for themselves outside, their hope is being drained by a system only concerned with short-term discipline rather than lasting reform.

Bailey's writing slowly but surely unearths the rotten core of our youth justice system, while projecting the humanity of its victims.

Cain bounces off the walls like a trapped fly with a turbo-charged and often hilariously foul motormouth, Riyad maintains a calm authority while Jonjo’s vulnerability is evident in his every expression. These are three boys in desperate need of love and attention, but with very little in sight.

The trio are vividly brought to light with flawless performances under George Turvey’s well-paced direction. Though it’s no fault of her own, the same can’t be said for Hall's character, who isn’t given enough of a hearing to really establish herself within the play. That’s the only real downside to an otherwise engrossing evening.

Opening in the same week that Feltham, Britain’s most infamous young offender institute, reopened its doors to new inmates despite rocketing violence and self-harm, this play serves as a quietly devastating reminder of the criminal waste of young life occurring in such places on a daily basis.

Runs until November 23, box office: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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