Reviewed – 2nd March 2019
“A relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show”
On Christmas Eve, 11-year-old Sandy embarks on a rescue mission: she’s going to break her granny out of the care home where they’ve locked her up. Sandy’s seen Escape from Alcatraz enough times – if Clint Eastwood can do it, so can she. The exasperated head nurse and a well-meaning new staff member are just two of the many obstacles between Sandy, her gran, and freedom.
Alcatraz, written by Nathan Lucky Wood and directed by Emily Collins, questions the state of elderly care in modern society. It’s an excellent premise for a vital topic. A child equating her grandmother’s care home with Alcatraz, and carrying out a plan to rescue her, is a scintillating approach to the social commentary. It’s a promising concept that hasn’t quite reached its potential.
The beginning of the play is confusing. Sandy (Katherine Carlton) monologues about papier-mâché, and narrates her journey breaking into ‘Alcatraz’ while reciting the plot of Escape from Alcatraz. These sections feel as long as it inevitably does when an overeager person is describing their favourite film. It’s difficult to care, and Wood hasn’t given us a reason to. Unless you’ve read the programme (which the script should not require), it’s unclear what Sandy’s doing or where she is. The disorientation creates a sense of detachment: if we don’t know her mission, we cannot be invested in whether she’ll achieve it. Additionally, a child breaking into a prison (or care home) has little stakes. What will happen if she’s caught? A reprimand and a call home. The scenario doesn’t inspire the sort of apprehension necessary to hold interest without any context to support it.
The story picks up when Sandy reaches her gran, and they make their escape. There’s good interaction between the characters and solid acting all around. The adult Carlton is impressively convincing as an 11-year-old. Josh Asaré is charming as flustered trainee-carer Peter. Ellie Dickens brings adept lightness to Donna, Sandy’s grandmother who is suffering from dementia. Although described as “not nice”, Lainy Boyle brings humanity to burned-out head nurse Arden.
The script continues to hit snags. The faltering pace makes the play feel far longer than its 60-minute runtime. An abundance of opportunities for humour aren’t fully capitalised on. There’s an attempt to pack what could be a second full-length play into the final ten minutes: Sandy’s father (Alec Nicholls) is introduced, along with a barrage of information about his relationship with Sandy and Donna, and Sandy’s absent mother. The scene quickly escalates to melodrama that isn’t necessarily earned, considering we’re just meeting the father. We don’t have the connection to him we need to feel his devastation as he confronts his failings. This is an intriguing, complicated family. It’s a shame the play only scratches their surface at the very end.
Alcatraz is a relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Part of VAULT Festival 2019