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Category B review at Tricycle Theatre London

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Roy Williams’s stonking new play about prisons and prisoners is the opening production in the Tricycle’s typically ambitious Not Black and White season, which examines the state of the nation at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, and which will also include work by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Bola Agbaje, all performed by a resident ensemble.

This ferocious piece shows how the two worlds of the screws and the cons interact in a tough and overcrowded Category B prison. As chief prison officer Angela prepares to move on, her colleague Andy and replacement David have differing views on how to keep a lid on the bubbling resentments of their charges.

Among the prisoners, there is a clear hierarchy. Hard man Saul runs the wing, keeping convicts such as the Muslim Riz and the unpredictable Errol under control. When a new young convict, Rio, arrives, tensions rise as he discovers an unexpected kinship with one of the older inmates.

In keeping with the title of this season, Williams paints a engagingly nuanced and complex picture of the different moralities that rub shoulders inside the pressure cooker of a tough jail. He examines loyalties and conflicts in a story where, because most of the characters are black or Asian, racism is less important than questions of power.

Directed with great precision and fluidity by Paulette Randall, on designer Rosa Maggiora’s metallic set, Category B can boast powerful and committed performances from Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Angela, Jimmy Akingbola as Saul, Karl Collins as Errol and Aml Ameen as Rio. They are ably supported by Robert Whitelock as Andy and Abhin Galeya as Riz. All in all, this is a powerfully written and strongly acted depiction of brutality, power and love in Britain today.

Production Information

Tricycle Theatre, London, October 8-December 19

Roy Williams
Paulette Randall
Tricycle Theatre
Cast includes
Jimmy Akingbola, Aml Ameen, Karl Collins, Sharon Duncan-Brewster
Running time
2hr 25mins

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