The play's the thing @rm_mackenzie @HmpStaffordGov
Today I was lucky enough to see a performance of Macbeth by the Emergency Shakespeare Company.
Some of you might remember that earlier this year I was at a conference in Dublin and there I met Rowan. Rowan is a force of nature and she works with men in prison to bring about performances of Shakespeare plays. Now you may already know that my knowledge of Shakespeare is based around the wonderful documentary, Shakespeare in Love, and I know enough lines to blag a culture round in a pub quiz so I'm nailed on for the target audience for a bit of the Bard.
Today's performance was in HMP Stafford and was based around the Scottish Play but brought up to date and set in the cast of a group of actors preparing to give a performance of Macbeth - a play within a play if you will. The old stuff was in there but also lots of contemporary text, all created by the cast. The set was a wonderfully simple arrangement of loose covers which were pulled over to show different locations as the play moved between a rehearsal room, the protagonist's flat and a pub. The boards on which the various covers sat were moved aside to reveal a bar with hand-pumps, the cast moved furniture to change the setting as appropriate, that was as beautifully choreographed as the dialogue and players entering and exiting the "stage" (there was no raised stage - they were performing in the chapel). They used the space to take us on their journey. I've got no doubt that a number of the actors were a far distance from what they might have thought of as their "comfort zone" but it didn't show; I've paid proper money to see far less professional productions. It was magical and I felt privileged to be there - I tried to write that on the feedback form and realised how poor my spelling has become as I so rarely write with a biro rather than tapping on a keyboard.
Because of other demands on her time Rowan has been working with the cast in Sundays - anyone who knows anything about prisons will know how special that is, usually nothing much happens at the weekends.
Then the Governor gave us a tour of the gaol. He's rightly proud of the work happening there and we saw the railway track used for training men to work on track-laying on release. We saw the pigmy goats and chickens. The space set aside for elderly residents - that is a growing population in many prisons and particularity here. The charity shop at Stafford has contributed more than £26,000 - that's twenty-six thousand of your English pounds - to a local charity over the last two years. The ethos is "Returning citizens not offenders to our communities" and all the evidence suggests that this environment is working to that end. I've even got a jar of honey from the prison bees (see the extras)
Then five hours to get home which was lovely as radio 4 had some really interesting stuff today, it's nice to have the luxury to listen to the wireless and think about stuff without emails popping up or the phone ringing.