Daily Archives: November 28, 2015

A Great Barlinnie Journey Reaches The End Of The Road – For Now



IT’S A COLD, BLUSTERY November night at Barlinnie, as an audience of twenty or thirty people trudge up through the walkways and courtyards of the old prison, towards a low, modest building known as the conference suite. This is a place which once had a grim reputation; but these days, Barlinnie is a much more upbeat institution, a short-stay prison where the emphasis is very much on education, rehabiltation, and ways of helping the men, once released, not to relapse once again into a life of crime.

Which is where we come in: because for the last three years – and in projects before that – the community arts team from the Citizens’ Theatre, in partnership with the Offender Learning programme at North Lanarkshire College, have been working hard at Barlinnie, with volunteer groups of prisoners, to encourage them to use drama as a way of gaining different perspectives on their lives, and imagining their way to a different possible future.

Over three years, there have been storytelling and design projects, playwriting workshops, and two shows – Man Up, performed in 2013, and last year’s Back Of The Bus. And tonight, the latest group of prisoners – with two professional actors, Joyce Falconer and Ian Bustard – will perform Tales From The Wagon, the last in the series, directed by the Citizens’ Elly Goodman, which emerges as a rough-and-ready but beautiful Christmas dream-play, with songs, about what happens when a van dropping off prisoners at institutions across Scotland becomes stranded in snow somewhere near Perth.

“The Citizens’ relationship with Barlinnie goes right back to the 1970’s, when Giles Havergal used to bring actors to work with the prisoners here,” says Neil Packham, the theatre’s Community Drama Director. “So we’re really going to miss this work – our 3 year funding from Creative Scotland’s Arts & Criminal Justice Fund is coming to an end, as the programme is wound up. But we really hope we’ll be able to continue this relationship in some form, given how successful this sustained programme has been.”

And there are three men also in the audience who couldn’t agree more; for since their release last year, Hugh Young, Archie Dickinson and John Reilly have come together to form their own theatre company, Street Cones; they were to be seen in Edinburgh last weekend, with fellow company members George and Neil, performing a powerful series of interactive monologues about prison life to accompany Summerhall’s 183 More Sleeps exhibition, curated by the Koestler Trust, which encourages art by offenders.

“This theatre work was so important to us when we were in Barlinnie that we just wanted to carry on with it,” says Hugh Young, “and we’re determined to do what we can to encourage people to confront issues like offending behaviour and substance abuse. At the moment, we’re working on a script that deals with the growing problem of “legal highs”, and we hope that will find an audience over the next year.”

And young James – a terrific natural comic performer, who plays the judge in Tales From The Wagon – agrees that working with the Citizens’ Company can change lives. “People say to me that I must have been on stage before,” he says, after the show. “But my life out there was rough, I didn’t get on well at school, and I just never had the chance.

“But now me and Billy here” – he introduces another cast member – “are writing scripts for Barlinnie Radio, as well as doing this. Our next one is called One Man And His Ned, and it’s about a spaceman on his way to Mars – but he’s got a ned with him. It’s really funny. And now we know that we can do all this, it really boosts our confidence – and that’s the first step, isn’t it, to making something better of your life.”

More information at http://www.streetcones.org, and http://citz.co.uk/take_part/prison_work/


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The Course Of True Love


JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 28.11.15

4 stars ****

THIS AUTUMN’S series of Play, Pie And Pint shows shared between Oran Mor and the Traverse is over now; but perhaps the Traverse should break the rules, and sign up a few extra performances of this last pre-panto show, a gorgeous and cheering brief rom-com by David Leddy of Fire Exit.

Leddy first made his reputation with beautifully-pitched site-specific shows like Susurrus and Sub Rosa; but the secret of his success has always been in the quality of the writing, and here he spins something strong, sad, witty and resonant out of a 45-minute dialogue between an excellent Louise Ludgate as Celia – the boss of a successful overseas development charity – and her junior manager Oliver, played with equal flair by Mark Prendergast.

The two have been attending a dinner, at “the world’s most expensive hotel”, with the sinister president of a small African country, who wants to make the charity an offer it can’t refuse; but when they retreat to Celia’s suite to consider their response, what emerges is a tough, funny and sometimes moving short play about the sheer difficulty of forming new relationships in a world full of fast-changing rules and assumptions about “appropriate” sexual behaviour, particularly between boss and employee.

And if the play’s political plot eventually takes a turn for the improbable, there’s no denying the sheer thrill of escape, as Celia and Oliver make their final bid for love and freedom; freedom not only from the president and his goons, but from a whole world of everyday pressures and expectations, that has kept them apart for much too long.

Final performance today.