phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement

Lucy Morrison: Billy The Girl

10 October 2013 Mary Howell

Set up in the 70s by two female prisoners, Clean Break is a women only theatre company, education centre and charitable organisation.

Focusing on supporting women affected by the criminal justice system, Clean Break's diversity in plays and educational programmes makes it far more than just a T.I.E. organisation. Armed with a fantastic reputation from their previous plays, their latest production, Billy The Girl, is the work of writer Katie Hims. Set to start its run at the innovative writing loving Soho Theatre, we talked to Clean Break's Head of Artistic Programme, Lucy Morrison, to find out more about the production, the organisation and how drama is being used as a educational tool to help turn women’s lives around.

London Calling: How does clean break help women affected by the justice system?

Lucy Morrison: There’s two parts to our work. We take our plays around the country and into prisons alongside running extensive workshop programmes. In London we have a centre where we run an extensive education programme attended by women who have either been in prison, or are at risk in some way. The courses are drama based and focus on change. This is key. They’re geared towards women making changes in their lives; breaking negative patterns and engaging positively with education in a way that they may not have done before in a formal setting.

LC: What attracted you to Clean Break?

LM: I’ve always believed that theatre can be transformative, but it’s not always evident when you’re wholly in a professional theatre environment. I had an instinct that I would get to see that here and the organisation is really unusual in that respect. I can work with the best playwrights, see the affects of theatre and be part of it all at the same time. What’s not to like!?

LC: Over 70% of women who study at Clean Break go onto further education, employment or long-term voluntary placements. Why do you think there is such a success rate in theatre and arts based charitable organisations?

LM: Without sounding too ‘self helpy’, it’s a place where women can discover something else about themselves. I feel that when you access your creativity, you access many other things like a sense of purpose, a sense of control.

For everything to be drama based means that it’s less traditionally academia. If you go into a prison and say ‘lets just try and do this scene’, suddenly there’s an engagement, which is completely different to if you had said ‘right lets write some ideas down’. It makes them feel good; it makes them think ‘I can do this’. And of course not everyone is a performer, but achieving something that you never thought you could is massively positive.

LC: Any favourite success stories?

LM: Two of our ex students went on to be in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Julius Caesar that was on at the Donmar, which is now going to New York!

LC: Do your writers take inspiration from the prison workshops?

LM: We absorb, but we never take anyone’s story or ask direct questions. Katie’s a real observational writer with a keen empathy, so she picked up little details in character. Tiny moments, little stories, and lots of them. She’s a bit of a magpie like that.

LC: Billy The Girl surrounds themes of love, family and betrayal. Where does the women’s criminal justice system come into play?

LM: The play is very much driven by a character who has come out of prison with a sense of positivity, but it’s untested. It’s a layer of positivity that she’s taken on, but hasn’t assimilated it. Coming out really tests that. The play also looks at elements needed for positive change, like what makes you feel safe.

LC: It’s a heavy subject topic, is it a heavy play?

LM: We can’t drag audiences down with emotions because we’ve got two audiences to think about; the theatre and the prison. So the writers really have to ask themselves, how is this really going to play out at 10 o’clock in the morning in a prison with no theatrical settings to hide behind? It’s incredibly exposing. Katie also said that she doesn’t want the women in prison to feel any worse at the end, and that’s been really hard because we have to grapple with the subject and deal with it authentically.

The play’s really observational and funny too. Humour's incredibly important. When you work in prisons, you see there’s a need for it. I don’t think you could get through without it. It’s all about capturing that bravery and lust for life, despite everything. That’s very much in the play.

 

With a play already planned to open straight off the back of Billy The Girl, Clean Break appears to be a focused, proactive company that has a bright future. Its blend of charity with theatre that communicates issues surrounding women in custodial settings gives it a strong identity. With productions so unusually geared towards a vast range of audiences, this is a company that’s bound to leave you with a whole new outlook on women in the criminal justice system.

Billy The Girl will run at Soho Theatre from 29th October – 24th November. Head here to get your tickets.

 

{ad-placement-MPU1}

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema

What to See at The Cinema

Your go-to guide to what's on the silver screen
Advertisement
Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

The five finest spots in London to shoot the breeze and pass the pipe
Advertisement
The Best Riverside Walks In London

The Best Riverside Walks In London

Oh we do like to be beside the canalside...
Advertisement
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

Looking to beat the heat or enjoy some fun in the sun? Here are our top 5 London lidos to enjoy this summer.
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week

Top Theatre of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
Top Exhibitions of the Week

Top Exhibitions of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

With the balmy weather here to stay, why not take in the sumptuous beauty that these London flower shows have to offer
Top Gigs of the Week

Top Gigs of the Week

From underground indie to rap stars to house legends, we've got you covered...
Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Even if the Easter bunny doesn’t visit your garden this month, there are plenty of ways to get your sweet fix this springtime

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement