Text: Neve Taylor
What an invigorating and inspiring session we enjoyed at The Mount on Wednesday 23rd May 2001. The prisoners were so welcoming and had anticipated us so eagerly. They burst into the room with an infectious energy and big smiles on their faces!
We all enjoyed the status game, a great icebreaker and also a wonderful tool in demonstrating this unwritten language of social status which we all play with each other. The prisoners became very engaged and correctly assessed status situations between themselves and in improvisations. The next exercise was truly remarkable. Using some ten lines of text, ‘I talk of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain…’ we developed a performance piece with the prisoners, firstly, encouraging them to own the text in their own mouths and then asking them to create a tableau.
We asked them to simply strike a pose, something spontaneous and instinctive, and the tableau was built, one by one, as each person held their pose. We then put the text back into the tableau and the prisoners informed the action they had chosen with the text. It was incredible how the ‘action suited the word and the word suited the action’! We experimented with different styles of speaking, (e.g., rap, calypso, etc.), and this gave the text weight and clarity. The final presentation was performed with real conviction. The prisoners really threw themselves into the exercise and enjoyed the chance to own those words and express themselves.
For the rest of the session we enjoyed more extraordinary work from inmates and actors alike. Bruce had chosen a scene from ‘Our Country’s Good,’ a play that has a resonance which runs so true in this setting. Alasdair and Oliver gave some lovely playing to a scene where two officers discuss the merits of putting on a play in prison. It was good to work with text in this way as I think it gives the prisoners an extra dimension to be in the spectator role of a performance and then going on to perform themselves. Of course the actors always involve the inmates in the action and imaginations are held.
Celina then performed a love scene with two of the inmates, Jamie and Gavin, who were both totally involved in the work and unfaltering in their concentration and respect for the work. There were some truly touching moments in the scene, which is slathered in subtext as the two protagonists cannot quite come to terms with their feelings for one another. An excellent choice, a chance for the inmates to physicalize the text, bringing it to life off the page. The scene is so charged and we tried to encourage them to expand the moments and encourage them to express and communicate the subtext within the strict barriers and boundaries of the situation in the scene.
Next we turned again to Shakespeare. Robyn and Colin thrilled us with a scene from Antony and Cleopatra. Colin played the messenger, a self-contained part within this scene, who has to deliver news of Caesar’s advancement to Cleopatra who has just lost her Antony. Again taking it moment by moment, Colin showed total concentration and a real subtlety in his expression in the scene. There were moments of real sensitivity. It was again a highly charged and enjoyable scene.
Finally Witslings, where the prisoners always surprise us with their honesty, bravery and skill in writing their own piece of iambic pentameter, and reminding us that everybody, no matter what you have done, has a soul.
Thank you to all the inmates at The Mount for overwhelming us with the generosity of their spirit.