Serving lengthy prison sentences, three young men attend parenting classes in preparation for a return to the outside world. Samuel Bailey’s first full-length play, Shook, is a delicate and deliberately paced character study.
The dialogue is bitterly funny and thoroughly convincing, each damaged character softly articulating their own subtext beneath defence-mechanism posturing, threats and guardedly affectionate mockery.
Though the story’s most significant beat unfolds with too much glaring inevitability to feel like the gut-punch it should be, this is still a moving and absorbing piece of work. Director George Turvey gives it space to breathe, letting the characters stew in inescapable fear and misery.
As former gang member Riyad, Ivan Oyik holds the highest status in the prison food chain, his casual confidence masking his hunger for education and self-improvement. Josef Davies’ newcomer Jonjo curls into himself in introverted frustration, while Josh Finan channels the opposite energy, dominating each scene as troubled Cain, his endless motormouthed bragging tinged with a wrenching desperation to be heard.
Rounding off the cast, Andrea Hall is a source of natural authority as teacher Grace, conveying the difficulties of the balancing act between showing compassion and retaining control.
Jasmine Swan’s set is oppressively naturalistic, a concrete-walled space packed with details. Laminated placards spell out the rules. Graffiti marks the plastic stacking chairs. A panic button sits unobtrusively on one wall, a reminder of the unseen omnipresence of the prison guards, and the endemic violence saturating the inmates’ lives.