IN BRIEF Smartly-written and acted prison story with an arresting twist

Humanity is both the key and the trap in SCREWDRIVER, a new play which has won the inaugural Bill Cashmore Award, playing four nights at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio as part of the theatre’s new Evolution Festival.

“Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story” says prison officer Nicole towards the start of this 60-minute (almost) one-woman show. Sharing about her job, relationship and the people she works with, as well as the prisoners themselves, Nicole seems quite sorted and in control. She cares for the prisoners which earns her respect. However, when rules collide with human failings to contribute to the death of an inmate, the tide turns and Nicole finds herself in a corner. Finding consolation where she can, she is drawn into a course of action which will change her life.

The script by Eve Cowley (who stars) and Elin Schofield (who directs) is tightly constructed and quite lean, using the constant tension between humanity and regulations to drive the linear plot. Cowley gives a solid performance as Nicole, working hard to maintain the rhythms of the text, aided by thoughtful direction and moments of dramatic lighting to alter the mood of the piece.

Describing the shifting dynamics of prison life effectively, this still feels a little like a work still in development. The show moves along at quite a leisurely pace and the audience’s realisation of the clever twist in the tail comes a little too late in the running time and rather too quickly to be believable. Perhaps more time examining Nicole’s feelings might have better darkened the atmosphere in preparation. However, it’s a clever piece of storytelling and although only occasionally theatrical, it held the audience I was with. I enjoyed its nicely cyclic ending, too. Perhaps just a little longer time to build to the twist might have helped its undoubted impact.

A season at Edinburgh would be a wise move, I think.

SCREWDRIVER played the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith Studio space from 11-14 February

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