Review: The Prisoner **

Edinburgh International Festival

The Prisoner

Lyceum Theatre

19:30 22-26 August / 14:30 25 August (run ends 26 August)

** (2 stars)

Either this is a piece that is so profound it left me floundering in the shallows trying to make any sense of it, or it’s a terrible piece of theatre that is trying to be deeply profound and mistakenly thinks it’s offering deep truths to enlighten humankind…

A bare stage with some dead wood lying around and the dead boles of a few scrubby trees still standing. An old white man enters and starts talking about visiting a ‘brown place’ and encountering a tailor sitting cross-legged on the ground, a silent dwarf, and finally a man called Ezekiel who tells him to go to the middle of the desert and visit his nephew, who is sitting facing the prison there.

The programme notes say “Somewhere in the world a man is sitting alone in front of a prison. Who is he? Why is he sitting there in front of a prison?”: he has apparently committed “nameless crimes”, but we are instantly told what he has done… The man’s story is narrated in various ways by various people. Short episodes follow each other, and people come for various reasons to see the man sitting alone. There are odd moments of beauty, moments of humour, many words, moralising, didactic pronouncements. Very little spoke to me apart from the silent strength and expressively liquid eyes of Hiram Abesekera, playing the man who sits alone.

The old white man came on to the stage again, said some more words. Blackout. The other actors joined him on stage. Stunned silence was replaced with applause which seemed to come more because it was expected of us than because we had been moved or uplifted – or felt anything other than puzzlement…

The piece was the brain child of Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne. It was all cerebral – no feelings came across to me. It was the outcome of workshops – it came across as the worst kind of undergraduate Fringe show which thought itself immensely clever but was in fact seriously underwhelming.

Mary Woodward