Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Stages: Theatre Tours to the Prisons

Earlier this week, as the Abbey Theatre look back in detail on Dublin life in 1913 at the height of the Strike and Lock-Out through the words and drama of James Plunkett's The Risen People, the play found a new audience in the prisoners and staff of Wheatfield Prison.  In terms of Irish touring theatre this is an unusual but not quite a unique departure.

As reported in TheIrish Times earlier this week:

The Great Dublin Lock-out became temporarily locked-in last night when, on an occasion that was historic in more ways than one, the Abbey Theatre presented its latest production behind bars.
The Risen People, a musical adaptation of James Plunkett’s play about the events of 1913, was transferred for an evening to Wheatfield Prison, where it was watched by 200 inmates, staff and invited guests.
The set was scaled down to fit the stage of the Wheatfield assembly hall, otherwise, this was the full Abbey experience, available in an Irish prison for the first time in its 110-year existence.

Though a first for the Abbey and yet another landmark in the story of its rich 110-year history, It was back in 1987 that Druid Theatre also crossed the gates and performed in Irish prisons. As part of their nationwide 1987 tour of Tom Murphy's Conversations on a Homecoming, the play was staged in Cork, Mountjoy and Arbour Hill prisons.

Within the Druid Archive here at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, is a letter of feedback from an unnamed prisoner within Arbour Hill. Entitled "Thank you for an evening's entertainment", the inmate wrote in detail a review and experience of the production in Arbour Hill. Comments include:

"Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you to one and all connected with the bringing this play to the prisons. . . We, the inmates or prisoners if you prefer, appreciated what must have been a very hard and apprehensive decision for you to make. Also, the prison staff deserve a clap on the back for making it such a wonderful evening."

The review continues: The characters by the cast were brilliantly performed.  .  .The professionalism was one of total enrapture for the audience which held our eyes constantly on every movement on stage. Any noise in the audience was met with a 'hush, hush, Silence please!' reaction from the rest of the audience."
Comments from prisoners, 1987

The letter concludes by comments from the prisoners with one being "It's nice to know that not everybody has forgotten about us in here, thanks a million to the cast of Druid Theatre Company."

This file on the 1987 Prisons tour by Druid Theatre is accessible at T2/144.

The Druid Archive catalogue can be viewed in full here

Press coverage of the 1987 prison tour (Click to enlarge)

No comments:

Post a Comment