Prison Theatre Project Wins National Award

Published: 29/11/2016

York St John University’s Prison Partnership Project with the Clean Break Theatre Company and London theatre The Donmar Warehouse has been awarded the Longford Prize for its work with women prisoners.

Longford Prize 2016

YSJ Prison Partnership Project awarded Longford Prize 2016. From left: Kate Pakenham, Phylidda Lloyd, Jon Snow, Rachel Conlon, Lucy Perman, Jennifer Joseph.

The prize honours outstanding work in the area of penal or social reform and was presented by broadcaster Jon Snow.

Established by York St John theatre lecturers Rachel Conlon and Jules Dorey Richmond in 2013, The Prison Partnership works with women prisoners and nationally acclaimed theatre company Clean Break, and is designed to provide an opportunity to develop vital creative and life skills for prisoners approaching release. For York St John theatre students, it delivers real-world experience of the impact of theatre within a criminal justice setting.  

The Donmar Warehouse joined the Prison Partnership Project to offer prisoners the opportunity to engage with the artistic team producing an all-women Shakespeare trilogy, set in a jail. Director Phyllida Lloyd, whose film credits include The Iron Lady and Mamma Mia, said: “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”.

Senior theatre academic Rachel Conlon, who developed the project, said that women who never considered reading Shakespeare, let alone standing up performing it, have developed a new desire for learning, and she added: “The actors’ desire to get their prison character right, to do justice to the women they met through the work of partnership, is powerful.”  

The trilogy of plays – Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest, has received critical acclaim, including a review from The Guardian that calls Donmar’s phenomenal all-female triumph “art to enchant”. The talented cast includes Harriet Walters and can be seen at the Donmar Warehouse at Kings Cross Theatre until 17 December.

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