A glimpse into the life and struggles of young offenders

A Handbag by Anthony Horowitz - reviewed by Richard Gill

Ariel Company Theatre, directed by Nicci Hopson, Bury Theatre, Hurstpierpoint

On an evening at the new Bury Theatre, Hurstpierpoint, audiences were treated to a double bill of thought-provoking theatre. The first of which, A Handbag by Anthony Horowitz, a short drama about inmates in a young offender’s institution rehearsing a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

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The scene is set to the backdrop of a beautiful 18th century garden, where we find Rose, played with wit and flair by Harriet Record, and George, played by the versatile Ed Hooper, ‘rehearsing’ a scene from the Importance of Being Earnest. The duo make the most of this comedic moment within Wilde’s piece as George (playing Charles Worthington) explains to Lady Bracknell as how he was found at Victoria Station in a handbag.

The play develops turning our comedic viewing of Wilde’s text into a darker plot as we see a glimpse into the life and struggles of young offenders, trying to find relevance in theatre. As the performance continues Ed (George) and Harriet (Rose) are joined by the rest of this fantastic cast, Nathan Harwood (Allan), Xander Abbott (Specs), Maud Kendrick (Irene), Ryan Harris (Kinsey) and Lucy Blackaller (Carly).

In a touching moment the lovable, sensitive character, Specs, loses his stammer and performs a one-man rendition of a section of The Importance of Being Earnest, which contrasts to his usual quiet and internalised demeanour – another significant reminder of how these troubled characters can overcome varying issues in the portrayal of another character. A terrific performance by Xander Abbott.

The cutting one-liners came thick and fast as we saw the complex relationships between the young offenders unfold, each with their own issues and history. Hopson punctuated these moments of truth with underscoring and focused lighting, adding to the raw vulnerability of these misunderstood teenagers.

Throughout the play we learn that some of these characters were as young as 11 when they committed their crime, but as the curtain closes on their production, we are left in the hope that although their offences can’t be undone, they can find redemption.

Reviewed by Richard Gill