The five inmates in Tina Jay’s sexually-charged prison drama Held, adapted from two separate one act plays Dog City and Walking, the latter of which won the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing in 2011, share a similar fate to Freddie Mercury in that they want to break free. As did I midway through the first half when it became apparent that the writing, direction and at times performances were not up to scratch. Unlike the eye candy!
Jack Brett Anderson as the baby-faced first-timer Jamie and Anthony Taylor as the world-weary old-timer Sleat lack the necessary menace, which their troubled characters’ backstories suggest. Though they are constrained by Richard Elson’s plodding direction, which alternates between lie down and jump up, whisper and shout; and Jay’s unconvincing script which consists of a series of short, repetitive scenes during which guards are dropped and tongues are wagged without trust being earned and friendship forged.
The second half sees Anderson on much firmer footing as the needy drug addict Fynn besotted by the blonde hair and blue eyes of his buff boyfriend Cal played by Duran Fulton Brown. Do you want me or do you need me? asks Fynn repeatedly. The answer to which is obvious when Cal is forced to use him as a honeytrap to lure the naïve Jamie into a toilet so that the Ronseal-inspired Ryde (Anthony Taylor doubling up) can have his wicked way. For the record: anal sex is mentioned frequently, but the carnal activity is of a “before the watershed” nature.
The manner in which the three-strong cast conducted their curtain call said it all really: rushed, embarrassed, awkward. Which is a pity for they put themselves through the emotional grinder for the best part of two hours to portray the battered and bruised characters who for one reason or another find themselves held in a tailspin of self-destruction. However, there’s only so much you can do with such lacklustre dialogue and direction. In the end, I’m sure they’ll be glad to break free when the run ends on Saturday.