The Examination is an interesting piece of theatre about the state of prisoners’ lives on the inside. It deals with the themes of human rights, ethics and mental health in prison systems. It is a research collaboration between contemporary theatremakers Brokentalkers and Professor Catherine Cox of University College Dublin.
The show is part documentary, part drama. It features stand-up comedian and former prisoner Willie White, who appears on stage in a gorilla costume. The drama is stitched together based on his story and those of other prisoners. It shows how, despite regulations, human rights violations continue to occur in prisons. Gary Keegan leads the narrative and introduces the audience to Cesare Lombroso’s ‘Born Criminal Theory‘. This myth, now debunked, states that some people are born criminals because of a genetic abnormality and can be spotted by certain facial features.
The show then extrapolates this to Keegan’s own experience. It doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions and this is commendable. White is challenged and the conversation is pertinent. With the demonstration of anxiety and psychological damage, the narrative is powerful. There is other interesting trivia contained in the piece, like the attitude of certain famous people to how prisoners should be treated.
There is a screen in the background that offers visual content to the dialogue. If doesn’t disturb the action but doesn’t add to the script. There is also a parallel storyline which leads the play to its conclusion although this does not appear as well thought out as the main narrative. This is a production that will appeal to those who have an interest in the penal system. But beyond that, it doesn’t add much new to the narrative.