Deathwatch at the Print Room at the Coronet
This is Jean Genet’s first play, newly translated by David Rudkin and expertly directed by Geraldine Alexander. Based on his own experiences in French prisons, Genet explores the psychological impact of incarceration: he subverts the moral order, creating a hierarchical system whereby the murderer, Green-Eyes, is viewed as a heroic figure. In addition to the performance, there is an accompanying exhibition of prisoners’ artworks, which should be seen, as it provides further insight into the oppressive nature of imprisonment.
In only 75 minutes, with no interval, the play gains momentum as it goes on. At times, the dialogue between the three prisoners becomes static, but, if anything, this helps to remind us of the monotony of prison. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the audience’s attention, Alexander adds dream-like dance sequences. These are both beautiful and horrifying to watch, with the most distressing being Green-Eye’s recollection of killing a girl, where he performs a dance of death; silver strobes reveal his convulsing movements behind the bars of his prison. The dance scenes sexualise crime: Green-Eye’s relives his murder with orgasmic delight, which his two cellmates partake in.
The whole set is perfectly crafted in general. Initially it has all the elements of an early 19th century French circus, complete with the thudding of a circus drum, red drapes and even straw on the floor, with the prison cell in the centre of the stage taking on the characteristics of a cage, as if we are about to watch a freak-show. This scarlet glow from the curtains dims as blue spotlights focus only on the prison; everything else is in darkness, so that the structure now seems to take up the whole stage.
There are some very good performances from the three prisoners and Emma Naomi. Joseph Quinn captivates with his twitching and psychotic Maurice. Tom Varey conveys the doomed, muscular authority of Green-Eyes and manages to draw us in, as he does his fellow inmates. Whilst Danny Lee Wynter is an unnervingly calm and meditative presence, his words are spoken with a clarity and precision, reflecting his lack of remorse and perfect awareness of the crimes he is committing. Deathwatch is intense, utterly captivating, at times, and well executed throughout. It should be watched, just do not expect a comedy.
Deathwatch is on at the Print Room at the Coronet from 11th April until 7th May 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: