Review – The Stretch at 53Two

An hour of theatre last night felt like ten years. I don’t mean how that sounds.

Manchester Actors’ Platform (MAP) has brought The Stretch back to the 53two stage from 6 to 15 March, following rave reviews at the JB Shorts Festival.

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Written by Joe Ainsworth and directed by Simon Naylor, the piece follows Lee (James Lewis) who, after making one terrible mistake, faces a 10 year prison sentence.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

The production is largely a monologue by James Lewis who delivers an hour’s prose with passion, wit, rhythm and energy. As Lee bounds into our psyche with protestations of innocence and appeals and incredulity, we are taken into a world of sentences, cells and screws.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Lee’s anger is tempered by his hopes of an appeal and taking solace from his mother and girlfriend Kelly. Instantly likeable, Lee (and indeed the play itself) quickly wins you round with his bad-lad humour and asides, no more so than when he describes meeting Kelly when she was on a hen night, when she emerged on a wave of inflatable penises (it was either a wave or a sea – I forget. However the inflatable penises firmly lodged themselves in my memory. So to speak).

A screen stage left provides periodic updates on the timeline, each milestone bringing a different Lee. Euphoric, angry, spiced-up, devastated, the audience bears witness to the highs and lows of the character as he is exposed to the dark realities of prison – suicide, pain and drugs, and learns about the lives (and deaths) of loved ones on the outside.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Supported by a small cast taking on multiple characters including prisoners and officers on the inside and figures from the outside, the entire outfit was strong, their dialogue snappy, one particular actor’s dancing devastating (again, in a good way) and together contributing brilliantly to what was a seamless 60 minute rollercoaster ride of emotions.

And as we eventually learn of the crime that landed the lead in prison, it provokes a question in us (I’m arrogantly speaking for all the audience but I bet I’m not far wrong), as to whether we can find room (and whether we should) to sympathise with the perpetrator as well as the victim, as they reap the consequences of one terrible ‘mistake’.

As outlined in my preview post, The Stretch was written in conjunction with the Pastoral Team at HMP Forest Bank, and based on true experiences, 

The production promised to show the highs and lows of being ‘inside’, and sought to shine a light on the support given to those incarcerated and seeking rehabilitation and an entry back into society and civilisation.

It did and impressively so. The Stretch is another example of why I love fringe theatre, as outlined in my post/love letter earlier this week.

Not content to confine their light-shining to the stage, MAP are collaborating with Manchester poet Argh Kid and holding a fundraiser on Sunday 10 March –  with all proceeds going towards charities that support the rehabilitation of those convicted.

Showing at 53two (LOVE this under the arches atmospheric venue), The Stretch is playing until 15 March. Don’t miss out.

For tickets and more details, visit http://53two.com/the-stretch/4593849274

To learn more about Manchester Actors’ Platform, visit http://www.maplatform.co.uk/


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