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Burn review at Southwark Playhouse London

Simon Bennett went into the deep end with his life, embarking early on a life of petty crime and flirting with hard drugs – something he was saved from becoming addicted to, ironically, by being sent to prison.

And his time inside had another redemptive effect, too – it was while he was serving a two-year sentence in Winchester prison that he found his voice in writing. His first play, Drummers, was born there and led to a West End production at the New Ambassadors in 1999.

For this, his second play, he takes another risk – he plays one of the lead roles himself. Like his writing, his performance has the authority and conviction of lived experience – fortunately, not the kind of conviction that will end up getting him arrested again.

In this short, sharp slice of underworld life, Bennett the actor, playwright and one-time drug user takes the nihilistic pulse of a group of crack addicts that makes for a bleak but bracing drama. Though characters say things like, “I admit I’ve been piping a bit the last few nights”, this isn’t a boulevard smoking room comedy.

Instead, the talk is of gear and the quality of the stones. And it’s played with a fierce commitment to authenticity in Esther Baker’s production for Synergy Theatre Project, a company who work with offenders and ex-offenders both inside and outside the prison system. The biography of one cast member here says: “She came straight from release to rehearsals for Burn.”

Production Information

Southwark Playhouse, London, July 19-31

Simon Bennett
Esther Baker
Synergy Theatre Project
Andrew Appleton, Simon Bennett, Michael Conrad, Jill Keogh
Running time

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