The bleak setting we are met with upon arrival does well to peak the audience’s interest, as a man in his mid-20s who we later find out is called Declan, sits alone in the corner of what appears to be a darkened cell as we all file in.
For a large chunk of the beginning of Heather Simpkin’s Locked Up, Declan, played by Samuel Ranger, is on his own in his cell, with no idea why he is there, no one to talk to and no way of escape- high stakes indeed. Unfortunately, the execution of these circumstances leaves a lot to be desired. Scenes are repetitive as he inquires to whoever has imprisoned him, albeit in different approaches, what he is doing there and why. It is a relief when he is joined by Topher (Conor Cook), as you feel as if the story can finally develop, the characters questioning the meaning of the presence of the other, but still no hint as to what actually is going on. This continues for most of the play, preventing me from becoming invested in the action in any way, as no further information is divulged, because Declan and Topher are both reluctant to reveal too much about themselves, and what they actually know about the situation.
Despite this, directed by James McAndrew, there are some nice comedic moments from Ranger, however overall there is a lack of energy and desperation from him and Cook.
There are overtones of 1984, as we eventually find out that Topher knows things he shouldn’t and wants to expose this, however he tells Declan that the things he has discovered are well-known in his circle and he is expected to turn a blind eye to the mass corruption.
What does not help the repetitive feeling is that each scene transition is carried out in the exact same way using lighting designed by Euan J Davies and Jac Cooper’s sound design, which creates a snap fade to black, hazy lights shining into the audience with harsh loud sounds of heavy doors closing and mechanically locking. These transitions occur often as the script is written almost as if in a TV format, with quit cuts that do not really transfer to theatre in this way, as you start to correctly predict when they will occur. Justin Williams and Jonny Rust’s set design perfectly suggests the intimate living quarters of the prisoners; the walls darkened and cut down to a low barrier to push this idea.
With some tweaks into what should and shouldn’t be revealed to the audience, Locked Up could be what it is trying to be. At the moment however, it probably should be written for screen.
Locked Up is playing Tristan Bates Theatre until the 28 July 2018