Written and performed by Marcus Hercules Prison Game tells the story of Mike, who is unfairly institutionalised at a young age, changing the shape of his life forever. While this might sound like a bleak and gritty piece of theatre, Hercules balances out the darkness with Carnival revelry, pulling us out of Mike’s story when things are getting too tough. The show is peppered with audience interaction, blurring the lines between us as people in the theatre, and us as characters in Mike’s story.
Marcus Hercules gives a powerhouse performance. He morphs between characters with a convincing physicality. The use of movement and dance, particularly in the more violent moments of the play, transfixes. Hercules is not afraid to set himself a challenge, given the complexity of the fragmented narrative structure he has chosen to adopt. There are sharp tonal difference between scenes, which become all the more dramatic as Mike goes into the adult prison system. While these rapid changes can be confusing, overall they are an effective tool for conveying Mike’s degenerating state of mind. The quick fire pacing takes us hurtling through Mike’s life, which can be exhilarating, but comes at the expense of allowing us to connect more meaningfully with him, and leaves little room for us to decipher the choices he makes.
Hercules has created a show that both entertains and provokes. It is hard not to question a system that would pull an innocent child into it, labelling them guilty and criminal when they are too young to truly understand the implications of the words. There is something self-fulfilling in the way Mike, after being labelled a criminal, becomes one. Hercules shows us a self-perpetuating system that is designed to keep pulling the prisoners back in, creating a cycle that is hard to break.
However, as dark as things get for Mike, there is ultimately still a sense of hope. While Hercules doesn’t shy away from showing us how challenging breaking the prison cycle is, with the right people in his life Mike just might make it.
There is a realness to the story, even with its fantasy-like Carnival moments, that reflects the fact it has been developed using real life accounts. Prison Game is a deeply human story, showing the devastating ripple effect of that first, flawed, guilty verdict.
You can book tickets and find out more about the dynamic Prison Game, which runs 7-11 September at the Pleasance London, here: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/prison-game#overview