Staging Time

Professor Hilary Marland and Rideout Theatre Company continued their work in prisons fusing historical research and sources with drama in a trio of new residencies.

Following the success of Past Time at HMP Hewell Hilary Marland and Rideout continued to work together at the invitation of HMP Stafford on a year-long project, Staging Time, commencing in Autumn 2018 and running throughout 2019. The project was aimed at men who were isolated due to learning disabilities, such as autism or experiencing early onset dementia.

Alongside Staging Time, we created a toolkit or learning resource to share the methodology and materials of Past Time with wider audiences, including schools and criminal justice organisations. Past Time ran at HMP Stafford in November 2018 in a slightly abridged form as part of their Talent Unlocked Festival.

A History of Hard Labour: The Biomechanics of the Treadwheel

We worked with Dave McKenna of Being Frank Physical Theatre to use dance to draw on the principles of Meyerhold’s Biomechanics, a codified way of acting where gestures and movements are used as a way of expressing emotion and character physically. Movements or etudes were based on the hard labour performed in nineteenth-century prisons, including the notorious treadwheel, the crank, shot drill, breaking rocks and picking oakum. The performances were outstanding with the men taking ownership of their work, cooperating with each other in producing a challenging piece of physical theatre, requiring trust and coordination. A short illustrated pamphlet presents the etudes created as part of the workshop process.

A History of the ‘Weak Minded’: More Fool than Knave

We worked with puppetry specialist, Dylan Tate, to explore differences in the way learning disabilities have been viewed in the past and present. In the nineteenth century many prisoners were defined as ‘weak-minded’ or ‘imbeciles’, characterised by their inability to profit from the prison system or to conform to prison discipline; many were described as habitual reoffenders and easily led into committing crimes. The men worked with puppets based on the Japanese tradition of Bunraku, a highly challenging artform, both emotionally and physically. The workshops resulted in a moving piece of theatre, with the men cooperating as they worked the puppets together. The performance has been recorded and will be made available online. 

Prison Reform and Conscientious Objectors: The Ghost Songs of Conscientious Objectors

We collaborated with the Irene Taylor Trust Music in Prisons to create music, songs, and lyrical readings responding to archival materials relating to conscientious objectors and their role in health innovations as well as their longer term impact in prison reform. The project resulted in a moving and evocative performance, with the songs informed by a range of musical styles of the period, incorporating ideas of patriotism as well as resistance to war. The songs and text are now available for others to use.

The project included an evaluation by Stafford University’s Crime and Society Research Group, that demonstrated the capacity of these projects to positively impact on the health, wellbeing and self-esteem and confidence of prisoners and their ability to develop positive relationships with both inmates and prison staff.

Staging Time was funded by HMP Stafford, ACE, Wellcome Trust, Warwick Ventures, and Warwick University’s Connecting Cultures Global Research Priority.

Image credit: Oakham Picking, Coldbath Fields, from Henry Mayhew & John Binny’s The Criminal Prisons of London. From Wikimedia Commons here