The Quare Fellow

ISABEL COCKAYNE Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds


For all its 50 years, Brendan Behan's controversial satire centred on the hours leading up to an execution remains disturbing and thought- provoking.

As soon as we walk in, the set of five prison cell doors and a railing, setting up a barrier between us and them, evokes a sense of restraint.

Then, with 17 actors playing in an incredibly small space, suddenly your own space feels cramped. And in the second half you feel time drag on for the wardens waiting for a man's death.

Actor Kathy Burke, who apparently typed out the play set in 1949 to understand it better, has only a light touch as a director to the play.

As in Waiting for Godot, we never see the Quare Fellow – the man condemned to hang for murdering then dismembering his brother “like a pig”.

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Still a picture of him grows and we learn more about his crime and victim through his inmate's quick banter. Despite the onerous subject, the sense of warmth and wit of human beings shines through the dialogue.

In this production, the acting is crisp and unpretentious and thanks to that you get flashes of how a jailed man despairs in his predicament.