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The Viewing Room - Arts Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

LEONARD Roberts, star of the cult BBC2 sci-fi series Heroes, is making his West End debut in Daniel Joshua Rubin’s The Viewing Room which runs from March 4 to March 29, 2008, at the Arts Theatre.

Described by Rubin as ‘a social horror’, The Viewing Room, which provides a solution to chronic prison overcrowding by housing convicted criminals in the homes of ordinary citizens, was first staged at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, where Rubin was Writer in Residence.

A young couple have ‘volunteered’ to do social service, choosing to take in a prisoner ostensibly soon to be released back into the community. ‘Their’ prisoner comes housed in a cage and is accompanied with an instruction manual with rules of engagement, and their apartment is fitted with surveillance equipment.

Their ‘superiors’ have numerous means of maintaining a dominant contact and controlling behaviour within the apartment. The couple have become unpaid prison guards. But gradually they discover that their prisoner is not who they think he might be, that their trust has been betrayed, that their prisoner’s crime is indistinct, that their flat may become a suburb of death row. The State is baying, but who is to die?

With its themes of personal and social responsibility in a surveillance society, with prisons at capacity and detention without trial at Guantanamo Bay, The Viewing Room is a highly topical play.

Jails are overcrowded and cost a fortune to run. What, if anything, can be done to ease the problem? Do we have any kind of power at all to criticise the auto da fe that may condemn a man or a woman to death, incarceration, or sequestration under conditions of extreme prejudice? And what is the responsibility that society has towards the people it puts out of its sight?

Although Roberts is best known for playing D L Hawkins, the loving father with the ability to walk through walls, in BBC2’s Heroes, he has also played villains Forrest Gates in 12 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Nam-Ek in Smallville. And he gained 20 pounds to play the legendary boxer Joe Louis in the TV biopic Joe and Max. His latest film, the thriller The Stone House, is in post production.

Joining Roberts is James Flynn whose theatre credits include Lie Detector (Edinburgh Festival); Orpheus (ATC); and Julius Caesar, The Revengers Tragedy and The Duchess of Malfi (Loose Canon, Dublin). On screen, he has appeared in The Tudors, Field of Honour, Countess Cathleen, and Ballykissangel. Flynn is a co-founder of Practicum Theatre which is presenting The Viewing Room.

Also in the cast is Samantha Wright whose theatre credits include The Tale of Rancor (London, New York, Philadelphia) and Measure For Measure (Off Broadway). She can also be seen in the feature film Lie Still, which is currently showing at selected European Film Festivals. Wright is also a co-founder of Practicum Theatre.

The Viewing Room is directed by A C Wilson whose credits include How To Kill, A Mouthful of Birds, Salome, The Balcony, The Human Voice and, at Southwark Playhouse where he was Resident Assistant Director and Literary Associate, The Biggleswades.

Rubin’s other work includes the plays Selling Water and Wild Dogs!, plus the monologue The Beer Man.

NB: The opening night gala performance on Wednesday, March 5 will benefit Amnesty International and the play will be featured in Amnesty’s events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.

Tickets: £32.50, £25, £15, £10 concessions.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinee at 3pm.

For more information call the box office on 0844 847 1608 or visit the website.