Prisons these days are just like holiday camps, argues Gary Keegan in this piece of documentary theatre from Irish company Brokentalkers. Comedian and former prisoner Willie White counters that he doesn’t know of any holiday camps that lock you up at 7.30 every night, and only allow you to see your loved ones for half an hour once a week. Or holiday camps where international human rights laws are routinely violated.
Back and forth the debate goes in this fascinating dissection of the Irish prison system, every argument shifting the foundations of the one that went before. But it’s also a debate like no other, wrapped in superb, slippery theatricality. Keegan is dressed smartly: jacket and shirt, brown shoes. We trust him. White, however, is in a gorilla costume. You see criminals, argues Keegan, are a different breed from other humans, closer genetically to primates than people. ‘Do you actually believe that?’ White asks.
Using interviews with prisoners and historical research, our prejudices and assumptions about prisons and prisoners are called out, switched up. The dynamics of power between these two people takes on a stomach-churning creepiness. It’s so lightly, so cleverly done.
Part lecture, part re-enactment, part verbatim, part invention – the sum of those parts is an extraordinary thing, a piece of theatre unlike any other.