Off with Keith and the Level 3 Applied Theatre students to HMP Send this evening to watch Pimlico Opera's production of Sugar - a specially adapted musical version of the film Some Like It Hot, performed in the main by the inmates.
The company have been working with prisons for nearly twenty years, designing projects that explore the role of the arts in rehabilitation and encouraging further debate on how prisons might better serve society. Behind the reforming work is the strong belief that the journey that leads most people to end up in prison begins with failures in the education system and with other government agencies. One in three children brought up in care ends up in Prison.
The kind of communal endeavour that these projects provide helps create the transforming experiences that are needed to enable individuals to gain the self-esteem that can help them break free from cycles of crime.
It was an amazing set up. A huge performance marquee, seating 400, on waste ground at the back of the prison complex, full rig and sound system and all the anticipation of a first night heavy in the air. We took about half an hour to be checked in and leaving our mobile phones in lockers made our way to our seats.
The show itself was really good, but the most moving moment came at the end when, during the prolonged curtain call, the actors scoured the audience to find the family and friends who'd come out to support them. Some cried, some whistled, some mimed messages of love or apology, precious moments before being gently shepherded off stage by the warders and counted back to their cells.
First night elation. As we were escorted back to the car park, the lights were going out in the cell blocks. It made me wonder how many of them would sleep and where you go to celebrate when you're locked up for the night?