York St John University’s prison theatre project moves from stage to screen

Bec Horner

Bec Horner

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York St John University’s prison theatre project moves from stage to screen

You can now head onto BBC FOUR’s iPlayer to watch an all-female Shakespeare trilogy set in the context of a women’s prison which was made in collaboration with the York St John University Prison Partnership Project.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, of Mama Mia fame, and working with local York St John Senior lecturer, Rachel Conlon, the innovative plays are a ground breaking collaboration between the Project and London’s Donmar Wharehouse.

The Prison Partnership Project, which Rachel established in 2013, delivers weekly drama sessions to women prisoners, alongside university theatre students, providing creative and life skills for prisoners approaching release.  It meets the social justice agenda for the university and celebrates the university theatre department’s long standing commitment to socially engaged arts practice.

Donmar Warehouse joined the University Project to offer prisoners the opportunity to engage with their artistic team in the research and development of the Shakespeare Trilogy. They also got creatively involved in the production. In the plays, set in a women’s prison, the performers adopt the roles of prisoners in a drama group.

“The premise was to take the most voiceless group you might imagine, women prisoners – refugees from our culture if you like – people without any access to the internet even – and watch them electrify an audience with nothing but Shakespeare’s language.” explained Phyllida Lloyd

All three productions; Julius Caesar in 2012, followed by Henry IV in 2014 and The Tempest in 2016, were shown to audiences in theatres in London and New York, as well as women and girls in schools and prisons.

The film versions were shot in a specially built temporary theatre in King’s Cross in 2016.

Rachel Conlon said,

“The opportunity of this enriching film experience is significant in making the lived experience of prison better for women through them seeing & exploring forgiveness, subjugation and redemption in Shakespeare’s work. 

It provided parallels and reflections for the women’s own lives and presents the opportunity for them to see and explore themselves through the characters narratives.”

The Prison Partnership Project is continuing its work with the Trilogy in disseminating the films and digital resource in women’s prisons over the coming year.  Here they will explore the themes in the plays via drama and creative arts workshops.

Watch the plays on iPlayer here https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b6zdp7/julius-caesar-from-donmar-kings-cross?suggid=b0b6zdp7

To find out more contact Rachel Conlon, School of Performance & Media Production, York St John University   Tel: 01904 876328    email: r.conlon@yorksj.ac.uk

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