Theatre review: Please, Mister

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BASED on the life and death of Tony Miller, who on the morning of 22 December, 1960 became the last teenager to be hanged in Britain, Please, Mister unfolds almost exclusively in the condemned man's cell in Barlinnie Prison.

According to his lawyer, Miller, 19, withdrew into himself after being sentenced for the capital crime of murder in the course of furtherance of theft – the botched mugging of a gay man lured by his 16-year-old accomplice – resigning himself to God's will.

So writer Patrick Harkins permits himself the licence of conjuring an evil alter ego for Miller (Iain de Caestecker), an incessantly voluble clown named Bunce (David Hayman). A familiar device in Scottish literature – Bunce follows in the psychopathic, split-personality tradition of Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, except his exuberant, vaudevillian presence is portrayed less as temptation or alibi – there's no suggestion that he manifested himself before the crime, but rather more is a diversion, albeit a malevolent one, for both the murderer and audience, before Miller's short walk to the long drop.

Larger than life, cartoonishly capering to the rock'n'roll playlist of Radio Luxembourg while the emotionless guards sit obliviously by, Hayman's performance necessarily paints Miller as a frightened mother's boy, ratcheting up the play's drama while probing the greyer, more compelling issue of guilt only fleetingly.

Director Morag Fullarton accommodates the play's central contrivance by affording Hayman as much room as he requires to dominate the small stage, a licence he eagerly embraces, delivering a compellingly mischievous physical turn. Still, the audience is left with little sense of who Miller is or was and with little empathy for his plight.