“There is no theatre so sublime as prison,” said Shakespeare. Well, he didn’t, but he should have done. It is strange that Shakespeare never wrote a play set inside chokey, given that it is such a perfect stage for all of the drama, mystery, raw humanity and rollicking LOLs that he specialised in.
Mind you, perhaps one of his plays is set in the nick. How would I know? I only ever did A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Macbeth and Hamlet at school. They were all cracking stories but none were a patch on, say, The Shawshank Redemption or Scum. It is no co-incidence so many of the greatest stories ever told – from Porridge to Papillon, Tenko to that bit in Goodfellas where they make the meatballs in their cell – were all set in chokey.
According to everyone I know who has ever done stir in real life, it’s actually quite tedious. But to the dramatist, prison is the perfect platform: it thrusts characters into a perpetual state of conflict they cannot escape from.
And now it is time to add a new name to the above list of classic clink-based dramas. Locked Up is back on All 4 for its second series and keeps getting better. Set in a women’s prison in Spain, it is similar in premise to Orange is the New Black. Like the Netflix romp, its main protagonist is a pretty blonde from a middle class background who winds up incarcerated for a blag she may not be wholly responsible for.
The characters are some of the worst bastards ever created.
I went off Orange is the New Black after series one because it didn’t seem quite sure what it wanted to be: was it a bleak and authentic rendition of the prison experience? Or a daft pantomime that played on the awkwardness of being the only bourgeois person amidst a bunch of ghastly savages from the underclass?
I like my prison dramas to be one extreme or the other: either completely comic, like Porridge, or utterly horrendous, like Scum.
Locked Up is very much in the latter category. It immerses us in the raw savagery of prison life. The characters are some of the worst bastards ever created. The plot is relentlessly exhilarating and surprising. Yes, there is the odd touch of black humour but on the whole it is scary and mental and nerve-racking.
In fact, it would be difficult to watch if it wasn’t for the fact that it was Spanish which, in the eyes of a dreary British viewer like me, renders it inherently exotic and sexy in spite of everything. Well done Spain, you’ve gone and made my favourite prison telly of all time.
Catch up with Locked Up on All 4 now