#FinboroughForFree: S-27

by Sarah Grochala

Online until 31 January 2021

The world premiere of the winner of Amnesty International’s first Protect The Human Playwriting Competition

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★★★★ Four Stars, The Jewish Chronicle
★★★★ Four Stars, Mobile Theatre

To read all about the original Finborough Theatre production of S-27, please click here.

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May is an idealist. She’s fighting for a better world and has sacrificed more than most. So when the old regime is destroyed, she is rewarded with a job as a prison photographer. But as the enemy pass one by one before her unflinching lens – both strange and familiar faces – can they shake her belief in this world she helped create?

Inspired by the work of the photographer Nhem En, who photographed the inmates of Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, and by painter Van Nath who painted Pol Pot and was one of only seven survivors of Tuol Sleng, playwright Sarah Grochala draws on prison records and interviews with both prisoners and Khmer Rouge cadres to create a startling and affecting drama.

About The Playwright Sarah Grochala

Playwright Sarah Grochala won the first Protect the Human Playwriting Competition in 2007, run by iceandfire in conjunction with Amnesty International and Soho Theatre, and whose judges included Rufus Norris, Robert Delamere and Nina Steiger. Previous plays include Waiting For Romeo (Pleasance London, January 2009; RADA and the Edinburgh Festival 2006) which was chosen by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be presented as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of Ibsen’s death. Last year, she was commissioned to write two short pieces for Theatre 503 – Viable Alternative (Theatre 503 at the Green Man Festival) and Covent Garden (one of the Urban Sprawl radio plays).

About The Director Stephen Keyworth

Director Stephen Keyworth returns to the Finborough Theatre for the third time, following the success of 2007’s Fanny and Faggot, and Dog Well Done. Stephen was Artistic Director of 5065 Lift. On June 21 2005, Flight 5065 filled all 32 capsules of the London Eye with theatre, comedy and music including Damon Albarn, Jo Brand, and the National and Royal Court Theatres. He directed two of the fourteen world premieres they commissioned and his own adaptation of Rory Kilalea’s Zimbabwe Boy went on afterwards to be performed on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre. His plays include Mad For It (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester), nominated as Best New Play in the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards. As one of eight writers in the BBC’s 2006 Writers Academy, he now writes for EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.

The Press on the Original Production of S-27 at the Finborough Theatre


★★★★ Four Stars, Time Out
★★★★ Four Stars, The Guardian
★★★★ Four Stars, WhatsOnStage
★★★★ Four Stars, Sunday Express

“It is not difficult to see why Grochala’s play won the first Amnesty International Protect the Human Playwriting Competition in 2007 and the Finborough triumphs again in bringing an important issue to the stage and playing host to one of the country’s most promising young playwrights.” Ruth Collins, Scienceisalie

“Sarah Grochala's play, inspired by stories of those who survived the Khmer Rouge, is a blistering account of the things that we will do to save our own skins, and the way the human heart betrays us. It says a great deal about the systems and structures of new writing in UK theatres that Grochala's nugget of a play has been lying around for two years unproduced. At its best it reminds us of Pinter and Bond.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“The writing is grimly uncompromising and delicate in the way it depicts a world in which those who grovel become those who stamp in a never-ending cycle of power-grabbing and blood-letting.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“Stephen Keyworth's production is taut and controlled, and there is some thrilling acting, particularly from Pippa Nixon as the disillusioned May, who realises she has given all for nothing, and former EastEnders actor Brooke Kinsella reveals hidden depths as June.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“Stephen Keyworth’s production is tight and sharp, and the performances are impressive, with Pippa Nixon as the intense, troubled May and Brooke Kinsella as the pretty but hard-faced June. The remainder of the ensemble work swiftly to flesh out those haunting, anonymous photographs and give us a feeling for the real people who found themselves plunged into a horrific nightmare.” Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

“One of the strengths of the tiny Finborough Theatre in west London is that it is able to closet its audience, at close quarters, with the action. In the case of Sarah Grochala’s S-27 this proximity plays a part: it confines us with the actors in a tatty corner of an old school, now pressed into service as an ante-chamber to a torture and execution room.” Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

“A disturbing and challenging experience.” Michael Spring, Fringe Report

“The agony and the outrage hit home.” Jeremy Kingston, The Times

“A hard-hitting and thought provoking sixty five minutes of theatre…the ideal play to represent Amnesty International and to disturb London theatre audiences.” Alexandra Carey, ExtraExtra

“A laudable and quietly effective drama that illustrates the dehumanising effect of dehumanising other people.” Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

“The play’s strength is the fact that it keeps the focus tight and doesn’t tell you what particular fate awaits each prisoner: that is left to you to imagine.” Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

“It succeeds in putting the audience for a moment into the shoes of both the oppressed and the oppressors and shows that even in the most desperate of situations hope springs eternal.” Honour Bayes, Broadwaybaby.com

“Inspired by the real life experiences of those who survived under the rules of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, Sarah Grochala’s play is a well-crafted, disturbing portrait of how far a human can bend under the threat of death.” Paul Vale, The Stage

“Sarah Grochala’s potent play S-27 which has been given an emotionally gut wrenching production at the Finborough Theatre in a piece which may not teach you anything new about the atrocities of human oppression but will place you right at the centre of it.” Honour Bayes, Broadwaybaby.com

“Pippa Nixon has the particularly difficult task of negotiating the role of the photographer May. Here is a character with which the audience must sympathise and Nixon, especially towards the closing scenes of the play, layers an emphatic performance with humanity.” Paul Vale, The Stage

“Pippa Nixon’s May has a hunched, defensive, accusing roughness that makes the worst of her actions seem possible, and an intense, ravenous imagining of a landscape beyond prison walls that burns through the closing stages of her performance.” Stephe Harrop, Londontheatreblog

“Pippa Nixon gives a strong performance as May”Alexandra Carey, ExtraExtra

“Pippa Nixon gives a strong performance.” Jo Caird, Whatsonstage

“Pippa Nixon delivers a strong performance as May” Ruth Collins, Scienceisalie

“Pippa Nixon puts in a compelling performance as the anti-heroine, stiff-lipped with adopted meanness while subtly seething with inner anguish.” Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

Brooke Kinsella as June. “Bullish, scheming, and quite uncompromising, Kinsella has a killer instinct for creating a sympathetic monster” Paul Vale, The Stage

“Kinsella is the subtler of the two, portraying with greater depth the moral predicament that June finds herself in. That said, the scene in which May is faced with the task of photographing her former lover is moving and electric in its intimacy.” Jo Caird, Whatsonstage

“Former EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella as June – a nasty role that involves simulated stabbings with a lit cigarette and the asphyxiation of a female prisoner. How the blonde, petite Kinsella can do all this, calm and deadpan, in the wake of her brother Ben’s murder a year ago, and in the wake of his murderers’ recent trial, is a cause for much wonderment, if not admiration.” Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

“Raw emotional moments however which are performed with intense focus by the cast. Pippa Nixon brings a taut strength to May which melts beautifully into a hopeful idealism and Brooke Kinsella is both hateful and pitiable as the cold June.” Honour Bayes, Broadwaybaby.com

“Tom Reed as Col throws emotional gunpowder into this already incendiary mixture to bring the story to its bleak denouement.” Paul Vale, The Stage

“The supporting cast do a fantastic job of painting a picture of the world outside” Paul Vale, The Stage

“A particularly rewarding performance from Amelia Saberwal as the mother” Paul Vale, The Stage

“Tom Reed brings a riskily contemporary edge to his physical bearing and his bitterness.” Stephe Harrop, Londontheatreblog

“Director Stephen Keyworth has created a fast, passionate, intense and emotionally draining piece of theatre; at every moment the stakes are as high as they can be - it’s a play about life and death. It is not neat or clean - it’s in your face, erratic, and at times uncomfortable. But, to be honest, what else should a play set against a backdrop of genocide and tyranny be?” Alexandra Carey, ExtraExtra

“Taut direction from Stephen Keyworth racks up the terror” Tamara Gausi, TimeOut

“Designer Olivia Altaras provides a suitably shabby and depressing set, down to unshaded lights hanging over the audience.” Michael Spring, Fringereport

“Come August, critics will be chasing down elusive dramatic nuggets in Edinburgh and hoping to make rare discoveries. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff is always the challenge there. And it’s often the challenge in London, too, though by the time a production actually reaches a stage here it has usually been filtered through some kind of sieve, rather than the free-for-all that permeates in Edinburgh. But sometimes work gets trapped in the sieve, it seems, and takes it’s time to filter through. One such is apparently a new play at the Finborough, S-27, about which Lyn Gardner says in her four-star review in today’s Guardian, “It says a great deal about the systems and structures of new writing in UK theatres that Grochala’s nugget of a play has been lying around for two years unproduced.” She goes on to say, “At its best it reminds us of Pinter and Bond”, and comments, “Stephen Keyworth’s production is taut and controlled, and there is some thrilling acting.” Mark Shenton, The Stage Blog

Online until 31 January 2021