Screws are prison officers, whose function is to operate doors. You’re only good as a screw if you have respect, which Nicole (Eve Cowley) does. It could have been her in the cells, instead she polices them.
Written by Cowley and director Elin Schofield, Screwdriver is the inaugural winner of the Bill Cashmore Award, developed from a scratch idea to headline the Lyric Hammersmith’s annual Evolution Festival.
The result is a – largely – solo show exploring prison’s internal ecosystem, and asking what is the cost of being good at a job like Nicole’s.
Cowley displays serious swagger in the role, especially when Nicole is drunk. She delivers quick and deft character sketches. Nicole’s coworkers, are described and categorised dismissively: it’s for the inmates that she shows real feeling, like the posh “Camilla Parker-Bowles” or the composed Amina.
Cindy Lin’s angular design strands Nicole on an anonymous square island, with a mirrored square above. The only props are her plastic cup of water and a chair she wrestles or leans on to channel her unsympathetic estate agent boyfriend. The stage’s trough occasionally throbs with white light, in dangerous breaks from George Ogilvie’s pink and blue washes.
Screwdriver takes its time settling in before vaulting towards a mysterious, emotionally-charged decision. This comes too abruptly for a show with a brief, one-hour run-time. But the sudden acceleration is matched by the sparingly used fuzzy climaxes of James Allen’s sound design and, in the end, the frank humour of Cowley’s performance wins out.