Monday, 19 March 2012

At the end of the was NOT miserable

Too many blog posts to write, too little time... I keep thinking of things I want to write about (and even vaguely composing them in my head on the tube), but so few of them seem to happen; my life has been pretty mental recently - lots of new things to relate on here job-wise...I should probably write a blog post about them!

But I really do want to mention my exciting day last Sunday (not updating chronologically, but hey, as my students would say: 'And what?').

I think it will take me a very long time to forget Sunday 11th March 2012. Firstly, I got to spend a beautiful day on the wonderful Annie McKean's narrow boat (she even let me drive a little bit!), with friends and family, on a gorgeous spring day. The kind where, as Philip Larkin would say, 'The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said'. THEN we went to HMP Erlstoke to see Les Miserable, a Pimlico Opera production, with professionals and prisoners.

It was seeing West Side Story by Pimlico Opera in HMP Winchester, when I was 14 years old, that triggered the epiphany moment where I realised what I wanted to do with my life. As the men stood there singing:

There's a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us 

There's a time for us
Somewhere a time for us
Time together with time spare
Time to learn, time to care
Some day!


I remember the hairs standing up on the back of my neck; feeling shocked and sad and proud and filled with hope. I thought: the arts AND social justice - my two favourite things!

HMP Erlstoke
Skip forward ten years and I'm queuing to get into another prison (my fifth?) and I'm thinking: Les Mis AND Prison Theatre - my two favourite things! (Nearly - please forgive my rhetorical flourishes, Miss Fox, cheesecake and my family). I do have a particular attachment to Les Mis, not just because I love the music and I have strong memories of choreographing dances to 'At the End of the Day' with my sisters in our living room when I was little, but also because over last summer while I was writing my thesis and permanently had my head in a library, whenever I was feeling despairing or uninspired or angry with the librarians using 'Outdoor Voices' (I thought I was going to commit librarianicide), I used to plug my headphones in and listen to songs from the soundtrack on Youtube until I felt ready to work again. Many a day spent sitting in the sticky heat, staring at piles of pointless paper and listening to 'One Day More' VERY loudly....

Anyway, this isn't just a little Les Mis memory fest. No, no, no. I really want to talk about what went on inside HMP Erlstoke that beautiful spring evening, how powerful, affecting and inspiring it was.  As I said, I've seen a number of Pimlico productions before. They have a very different methodology to the other Prison Theatre companies I've worked with, namely Playing for Time and Clean Break, although I won't go into an in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of each now; you'll have to take me for a coffee (and a brownie, the brownie is obligatory) to hear my detailed analysis of the prisoner experience, the aesthetic merits and the complexities of process Vs product, if you want to get my fuller views on the subject. But I will just say that this year I was really pleased to see the prisoners were more integral to and integrated into the final production, with only the women and Jean Valjean and Javert played by professionals. The prisoners playing Marius, Gavroche and Thenardier stood out as particularly excellent. It was such a good choice of musical, as well, as there are obviously themes of justice, culpability and redemption throughout. Think: 'Look down/ Look down/ They've all forgotten you', 'Drink with me to days gone by/ To the life that used to be' and, evocatively, 'Who am I?'

Who were they?   Actors.       Artists.         Brave.

Les Mis in HMP Erlstoke - image from Pimlico Opera website

No comments:

Post a Comment