After entering the claustrophobic confines of HMP Durham Ric Renton’s identity was replaced by an ominous four digits. 

This time around the convict, returning to the North East prison after a breach of his parole conditions, is DV7786. 

Renton’s first-hand experiences inside helped him create a drama acutely portraying the vulnerability and volatility that comes with prison. 

One Off successfully breaks down the barriers, stereotypes and incarceration all associated with time inside.

The Northern Echo:

Renton, of Denton Burn, Newcastle is no stranger to the four walls of a cell. He spent much of his young adulthood in prison due to a string of offending. He frequented Newcastle Crown Court on the Quayside when awaiting the outcomes of his offending but it is just over the road at the Live Theatre where One Off is premiering. 

Prison is a long game and every day, week, month and year spent inside can break humans. One Off is Renton’s tribute, a eulogy almost, to all those who didn’t make it until the end of their tenure. 

Stage design is simplistic but powerful. Three raised rectangular concrete blocks symbolise separate cells and gives the audience intimate access into the thoughts and emotions of Shepherd, played by Renton, the towering figure of Ricky Shah’s Knox and Jack in the box-like Brown, played by Ryan Nolan. 

The ambiguity of prison time and what it’s like inside is made easier by Renton’s comforting script filled with North East slang, prison speak and popular culture. There’s a glossary of colloquialisms within the script but each characters delivery makes the audience feel at home. 

The Northern Echo:

The play’s title - One Off - is derived from a term used only in Durham prison to describe when an inmate has died by suicide. And it is nightwatchman Jock, played by Malcolm Shields, who is often first on the scene of the tragic discoveries. 

The human frailties associated with prison are for all to see. Drug addiction masks depression and therapy hides anger. For Shepherd, it’s a dictionary - a unique request while incarcerated in solitary confinement. The book proves to be a tonic and arms him with the ability to read and write. 

In reality, inmates never actually caught sight of Jock meaning Renton was left to strike up the character based on the countless hours of conversation they had from behind the bolted-shut door of his cell. 

But you wouldn’t know it thanks to the characters’ synergy and the astute work of the production team lead by director Jack McNamara. 

The Northern Echo:

The drama’s development carries with it a maelstrom of emotion. For all the magnetic bond between each personality, the characters are floored by new developments involving each individual, causing them to question: did they really know them at all? 

A raw depiction of affection, humour and vulnerability, Renton's work is masterful and emotional, and will leave a lasting impression. 

One Off is at Live Theatre, Newcastle until Saturday, November 26.  For tickets and more information go to or call the box office on 0191 232 1232.