Cincinnatus is meant to be a darkly comedic portrayal of a man in prison for an unknown crime. He’s tormented by the indifference he receives from everyone else be they the prison’s Director (Thomas Witcomb) and lawyer (Gerry Skeens) or his wife (Nia Kova) and mother (Angela Prince). Cincinnatus (Garry Voss) has been sentenced to death for this mystery crime and no one seems to want to tell him when the date of his execution has been set. While he sits in his cell, he is visited by a range of characters who either don’t understand or don’t care about his predicament.
The play is a comedic adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Invitation to a Beheading. The intimate theatre under a pub is the perfect location for a play set in a prison as you might easily believe that this dark, cold and unwelcoming room might have been a prison cell in a past life. The set is minimal, consisting only of a small table and chair up against the wall and a mattress and pillow in the corner. Two phrases scribbled in chalk stand out on the wall. One reads “Welcome to our prison” with a mismatched illustration of a flower and a smiley face. The other states that in prison there are no emotions other than anxiety. In hindsight both these phrases work as a fitting synopsis for this play with the morose Cincinnatus growing more anxious by every chime of the clock while the other characters absurdly ignore the seriousness of Cincinnatus’ case.
While this play aims for the absurd, it isn’t entirely clear that the director and cast are aware of this. There are many instances where it is obvious that the cast are expecting a laugh that never comes. The exception is one scene where Cincinnatus and another prisoner, Pierre (Gary Cain), play a game of chess. Every time Cincinnatus takes a threatening position, Pierre revises his move eventually exclaiming, “Do you even know how to play chess?” There were also many occasions where the actors fluffed their lines or moments where a group of actors communally dried onstage.
The costume is designed fairly creatively with each character wearing some form of striped garment, for example the director’s tie, the lawyer’s top and even Cincinnatus’ wife Matha’s bra. Perhaps this is to symbolise that each character has their own vices too.
Perhaps with better comic timing this show could be rather funny but unfortunately I found myself wondering along with Cincinnatus, how long until his execution?
Cincinnatus plays The Barons Court Theatre until November 27.