Review: One Off at Live Theatre Theatre Newcastle
One Off is the incredible autobiographical tale of Ric Renton’s years in Durham prison and the life changing friendships he developed that saved him. Ric stars in his own story alongside a cast including Ryan Nolan (1917), Ricky Shah (Anansi Boys) and Scottish actor Malcolm Shields (Outlander).
Three young men Knox, Brown and Shepherd pass their time in a prison with the highest suicide rate in the country. Energised by their friendship but with the walls around them getting smaller, haunted by the repeated pronouncements of another life lost, the arrival of a nightwatchman, Jock, offers Shepherd an unexpected way through the darkness.
I love a true story as it makes it that much more personal to watch. To know what you have seen is a lived experience and this show is, in one word POWERFUL. That was all I could think when leaving the Live Theatre Newcastle last night.
The four cast members were utterly brilliant, and accompanied by the staging, lighting and sound coupled with the intimate nature of the theatre immersed you in this production and brought an intense atmosphere.
Scenes in which these inmates are cuffed, restrained, jolted and dragged around by invisible guards was just brilliant. These movements were very purposeful and helped to portray a larger cast than it actually was in these moments.
Lighting transitioned scenes wonderfully and created both soft and intense scenes. It was brilliantly managed and directed. Whether it was highlighting Jock in his offset positioning in front of the cells, spotlighting on individual characters or general lighting across the set, it was some of the best use I’ve seen. I also particularly liked the transitions when in isolation reflecting the passing of time and then in a moment a seamless change of character.
The staging was simple yet clever. Three large dull stone grey blocks representing cells, we got to see through these invisible walls all of the shouted conversation between each of these inmates. An offset back area was cleverly used for Jock to assume his position, also used later to show each character in an isolation cell.
Back to the performances, and each gave a strong individual performance and different personality. I don’t always mention each character individually but it’s only fair to on this occasion.
Ricky Shah plays Knox. Shah delivers a character that is cool on the outside with the rage of a volcano just waiting to blow given the opportunity. A Ronan Keating fan, we are left wanting for him to succeed when the opportunity arises when he is released.
Ryan Nolan provides an at times hugely humerous display of this sandancer. A drug riddled heroin addiction sadly motivates this character and we come to learn of his vulnerability and paranoia. A radgie in persona we see this character give a lot of mouth on the surface while hiding a lot left to explore behind it all.
Ric Renton, portrays Shepherd. He comes to see what is happening around him and wants a better future. In a prison where suicide numbers are high, through friendship and a learning of the dictionary, we see this initially frustrated character find a way through it all.
Malcolm Shields is understated and yet one of the most influential in this show. He appears one of the only guards in the prison that may actually care and an unknowing saviour. He offers conversation and advice, he is a constant in the lives of these inmates. Dealing with his own personal crisis we see that he may just be as lonely as the inmates that he oversees. Trying also to balance a set of unwritten rules amongst his colleagues he does his best to be fair to the inmates while not upsetting the cart.
This productions highlights brilliantly the struggles that inmates had to go through. It was raw, intense and still made time for humour but most importantly covered the issues of suicide with care. If you get a chance to see this please do, as it is a piece of theatre you won’t get to experience too often.
One Off is a Live Theatre, Paines Plough and Synergy Theatre co-production, generously supported by The Hadrian Trust and The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.
Running until 26th November 2022