REVIEW: CATEGORY B The Tricycle Kilburn

PUBLISHED: 16:32 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:31 07 September 2010

Four star rating If Roy Williams absorbing prison drama is any indication, The Tricycle s trio of state of the nation plays by black writers will be a success. Williams plays have a vital energy that marry emotional charge and dark humour with compellin

Four star rating

If Roy Williams' absorbing prison drama is any indication, The Tricycle's trio of state of the nation plays by black writers will be a success.

Williams' plays have a vital energy that marry emotional charge and dark humour with compelling dramatisation of contemporary issues. Category B humanises both the cons and the screws in a London prison, raising themes around their mutual dependency and institutionalisation.

He finds fertile ground in prison's alternate value system - where guards "keep the pressure" by allowing hardcore cons to control fellow inmates and their drug supply.

And while he doesn't overtly tackle the appallingly high number of black prisoners, the play throws up issues around absent fathers, gang culture and violent sexism among black youth.

Tough but compassionate prison officer Angela (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) has a better relationship with her fellow screws and cons than with her family - but dislikes the person she's become after years of prison life.

Errol (a finely pitched, coiled spring of a performance by a commanding Karl Collins) is the lifer due for parole, torn between his survival instincts and paternal protectiveness.

Violence erupts when hardman Saul co-opts him as his henchman, and his estranged son Rio turns up on remand.

There's a telling scene where Jaye Griffith's heart-rendingly anguished single mum Chandra wonders where she went wrong with sons Rio and Reece (a splendidly swaggering John Boyega).

And an accusing Rio hears Errol articulate a poignant hope that the next generation would succeed where his failed.

While it could do with some judicious pruning to tighten an overlong first half, it's an engrossing, well acted drama that brings audiences inside a world it seems few whites will ever see.

Bridget Galton

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