The play reading on Friday was an absolute triumph. In front of a packed audience of some 100 residents of HMP Grendon, 20 visitors and a dozen staff in Grendon’s conference centre, three superb actors (Jason York, Amaka Okafor, aand Jonathan McGuinness) – ably directed by Lucy Morrison – read the plays of five Grendon inmates. It was a thrill to be there. The work produced was by turns dark, moving and very funny. Topics switched from a fishing trip gone wrong, through a man contemplating suicide to a comedy yarn about a couple in a rented caravan plagued by an untraceable smell. All of the plays were beautifully structured, coherent, pacy and packed with ideas. And so varied in their themes: these were ten minute gold mines.
Lucy suggested before the reading began that, in the absence of set and lighting, the audience allow the words to transport them to the places described. And that is precisely what happened. As the questions raised in the post-show Q&A suggested, those watching were enthralled.
For the men who wrote the plays there was a clear thrill. Not just in the widespread approbation and admiration they received from their peers. But to see their own work delivered with such expertise and aplomb was a high none of them imagined themselves experiencing.
The credit for the success lies with the writers, with the actors, with the director and above all with Simon Longman and Arabella. Simon’s encouragement, support and advice to the men during the writing process was incalculable. The writers I spoke with all said they simply could not believe that they would ever be in such a position. Ten weeks ago the idea that they would write something at all, never mind something performed in front of a rapt audience was just ridiculous. Now it had happened. And everyone should be justly proud. Jim W