Three men in a young offenders institute, waiting to start a class on how to be an effective father, are the central trio in Papatango’s Shook, which had a successful run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2019. It was to transfer to Trafalgar Studios last year, but instead has been captured for the screen.
These three should be sitting their exams and looking forward to their first exciting steps in the world. Instead they are here, serving sentences, biding their time, choosing their words, catching news from home where they can.
Samuel Bailey’s play has fathers at its heart. Absent fathers. Expectant fathers. Harsh fathers. Incarcerated fathers. Dead fathers. Fathers trying to make good. Father figures.
Set fot the most part in one classroom, we get to know all three young men and their teacher, Grace (Andrea Hall, who makes an impact in just a few scenes). Seeing them day after day we can see beyond the masks they hide behind and the walls they put up.
Jonjo (the quiet one, with a stammer, played by Josef Davies) worries about the gravity of his crime preventing him from seeing his son. Cain (a Scouse who is in full-on banter mode, played by Joshua Finan) relies on the only system which has given him certainty in life. Riyad (clever and pragmatic, played by Ivan Oyik) entertains college dreams on the outside. As we watch, we start to feel a sense of hope for all of them.
Each has a story, with which Bailey’s script slowly paints the characters into sharp relief. Their vernacular is completely believable, the plot twists shocking and sad. Whether they are trading sweets, play-fighting, joshing each others or bonding as friends, we are there with them each step of the way.
George Turvey’s direction keeps the tightly wound production on track, and although the filming has no pretentions to be cinematic, it hones in on details when it matters. A look, a nervous movement, a prop, a word.
It might be assumed that no good comes out of education inside, if Shook is anything to go by. It is certainly bleak – and at times I felt Cain’s manic chattering was just a bit overdone – but I came away feeling this was an important debut play adding to discussions on the penal system and men’s mental health.
Shook is available until 28 February and you can book £10 tickets here. Each ticket gives you 48 hours access to the production and 50% off the published playtext.
Image credit: The Other Richard.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Shook.