In 2016, Nathanial Jacobs participated in Kestrel Theatre Company’s first play to be staged at the Royal Court, Blood and Water, written by inmates at Springhill Open Prison. Last Autumn, he returned to the Royal Court as an audience member to see the one-off performance of Kestrel’s latest production, Broken Dreams. This is his account of the event, first published in Inside Times, the national newspaper for prisoners and detainees.
It’s Thursday 7th December 2017 and I’m sat on a train en route to London; more specifically Sloane Square. I’m eagerly awaiting to see the latest work by the Kestrel Theatre Company which is being performed at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs of the Royal Court. Naturally, with this being a Kestrel production, this is being performed by residents of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. The show I am about to see has been written and performed by nine men from HMP Springhill.
I arrive at the Royal Court and head to the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. As I am about to walk in I am handed an A5 program with the title Broken Dreams: When Life Gives You a Fish. At this point, I don’t really know what to expect of the performance or the set, but considering the last time I was there, (in 2016 to see Torn, a new play by Nathanial Martello White) the room was a completely blank canvas. This time, the entire room is blacked out, stage lights are beaming directly down and it appears to be a woodland scene. The beautifully lit, darkened room is half filled with naked trees which makes the scene understandable and reasonably ‘normal’, until you notice that there is a chest freezer in the middle of it all. I take my seat, the chatter of the crowd dies down, as do the lights. We descend into pure blackness.
As the show opens we meet main character Greg who delivers a hilarious monologue about this fish he waited to catch which by estimate, or hyperbole, went from being ‘a 30, no 40… No, FIFTY pounder’.
Scenes progressed from being about fishing, to having a laugh in the local pub and ignoring his phone ringing (a critical moment), to when he was arguing his disappointment with his teenage son, Calvin, for wanting to get into boxing – which wouldn’t “put food on the table” – rather than getting a proper carpentry job like him. As the story progresses, the light jovialness of the first couple of scenes starts to descend into the serious, underlying themes upon which the story is based. We see Greg at the council trying to resolve the calamity of being kept up in a hotel and the council not doing anything to progress the housing situation, the inevitable turn to drink to drown the demons he faces and coming to terms with all that has happened.
The honest, touching and heartfelt truth to the story is woven with appropriate, well-timed humour and brilliantly conveyed by its cast. Wrapping the superbly well-written story and acting together is sound design that subtly transforms mood and lighting to create a deep, rich atmosphere.
Upon the closing of the performance the cast rightly thanked Kestrel’s Producer and Director, Arabella Warner and Holly Roughan, respectively, as well as all those who helped to bring the performance to life, including the Establishment for “getting them there on time”. The rapturous applause and speeches was followed by the chance for the crowd to mingle and speak with those involved.
The performance was extremely well received with one audience member stating that “considering these gents have never acted in their lives, the performances and story-telling was better than a lot of what is currently on TV.” Another remarked to me, “Truly engaging and convincing. An absolute triumph.”
Following the performance, I was afforded the honour to go backstage to sit and converse with the cast to find out how they felt about the experience as a whole. Their enthusiasm and passion for their craft was so clear to see.
They expressed that when approaching the writing phase they did not want to be “typical” or “cliché” with the story they would tell. So, rather than going down the route of telling a story about crime, addiction or other issues that so prevalently plague those incarcerated, they decided to tell a story that was relevant, touching and current. Asking how it felt to be part of the project, they told me that it was “great to escape from the day-to-day prison life and work” (as well as getting out of work).
I had a chance to speak to the group to let them know that I knew what they were experiencing and feeling, as I had been in the exact same position only fourteen months prior. I knew because I am a former resident of HMP Springhill and was privileged enough to have worked with Kestrel on two projects whilst there; the first of which was the Royal Court-showcased Blood and Water. It was a great opportunity to let them know that this single performance can lead to so much, if they wanted to venture into the entertainment industry.
As well as working on the theatrical performance Blood and Water, Kestrel returned to Springhill in February 2017 to work with us on another project, a short film titled The 360° Man; two very different but very enthralling experiences and pieces of work. Each project allowed people who may have no experience in performing or acting to gain a rich understanding of all aspects of putting together and creating a showcase. Since working with Kestrel, I have been fortunate enough to gain work in the TV and Film industry, whether it be gaining further education on an ‘Introduction to Film and TV Production’ course, or working on a production as a Runner, Boom Operator, Edit Assistant or Production Assistant.
I hope that, like Kestrel and the performances discussed, I have been able to inspire others.
Broken Dreams returns to the Royal Court with a new cast from HMP Springhill for a limited run of 8 lunchtime performances, 1-11 Aug. Find out more about the show here.
Kestrel Theatre Company is a charity that takes professionals into prison to work alongside those in the criminal justice system. The team operates in a collaborative way to facilitate original drama and film. By empowering people in prison to express themselves in a non-judgmental, collaborative and enabling environment, Kestrel’s aim is to help develop greater self-confidence, mutual respect and resilience, and by realising their creative potential, produce work of the highest standard.
You can find out more about the work Kestrel does by visiting Kestrel’s website: www.kestreltheatrecompany.co.uk