My second execution-themed play of the week (Measure for Measure was the first) was a tense and emotional affair.
It's set in a far eastern prison where Simon (Tom Hughes) is visited by his parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) on the evening of his execution. He's waiting to hear whether he has had a last minute reprieve from the firing squad.
Trafalgar Studios bijou theatre 2 is simply set up as prison waiting room. Institutional, grubby, there is a wooden bench and a chair and a guard always on view. A small hole in a frosted glass and barred window gives Simon a view of the gathered press and crowds outside the prison.
Simon swings from terrified, to resigned, to resentful and it is into this heady mix of heightened emotions he has what could be his last conversation with his mum and dad. Something is eating at him; something has eaten into his relationship with his dad, something that might just get vomited up at this crucial hour. Facing death his life, and that of his parents, come under the spotlight.
Tom Hughes's Simon is at times a brattish, spoilt, entitled, stretching your levels of sympathy. He can be cruel and cutting but also funny, vulnerable and ultimately tragic.
It is Niamh Cusack who really pulls at your heart strings, the mother being ripped to emotional bits and desperately trying, and sometimes failing, to keep it together. The small performance space and proximity to the actors intensifies the emotions as the clock ticks towards Simon's fate. You feel like you are locked in the prison with him.
Ticking is an hour and 25 minutes of gripping, emotional drama of the sort that leaves you feeling a bit wrecked at the end. Superb performances and definitely worth a look.
You can catch it at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until November 7.
The lovely Tom Hughes played Aumerle to Mr W's Richard II