Clean Break are a particularly interesting theatre and education company, and this August they return to the Fringe after a break of many years with their show ‘Dream Pill’.
ThreeWeeks Spoke to the group’s Executive Director Lucy Perman to find out about their work and their Edinburgh 2011 show.
CM: Tell us a bit more about Clean Break, what you do and how you were created.
LP: Clean Break is a theatre and education company. We use theatre for personal and political change by delivering theatrical and educational projects for women in the criminal justice system. The company was founded in 1979 by two women prisoners at HMP Askham Grange. The women used theatre and new writing to tell the stories of women in the criminal justice system.
When they left prison they took the company with them and today it has grown to become a critically-acclaimed new writing theatre company, also now highly respected for its education and training work with women offenders. At the heart of the company’s work is a continued commitment to commission and produce plays by leading female playwrights which dramatise women’s experience of, and relationship to, crime and punishment.
CM: How does your education programme work?
LP: Our education programme is for women offenders and women at risk of offending both in the community and in prisons. In London, we deliver year-round theatre education courses for around 100 women a year which enable them to break the cycle of offending and move onto education, employment or volunteering.
Around the country, we work with around 500 women in prisons annually through playwriting residencies, and theatre education workshops. For example, we’ve just finished a three-day playwriting residency with Lucy Morrison, our Head of Artistic Programme, and Katie Hims, playwright, at HMP Askham Grange which culminated in a professional reading in the prison of the work the women had created with the support of our artists.
CM: How do you go about commissioning scripts?
LP: We commission plays from women playwrights – but only a small handful at any one time because of budgetary constraints. The upside of this is that most of the plays we commission we also produce – which is a great incentive for the writers, even if it is a bit pressurised at times! We go out and find the writers and we look for original voices, a commitment to our ethos and the world we are interested in interrogating.
CM: What is your Edinburgh 2011 show about? Who’s involved?
LP: Our Edinburgh 2011 show is ‘Dream Pill’ by Rebecca Prichard and directed by Tessa Walker. It’s being staged at Underbelly until 28 August with two amazing actors Danielle Vitalis and Samantha Pearl. ‘Dream Pill’ was originally produced as one of six plays in a season called Charged, which played to critical and popular acclaim at Soho Theatre in Autumn 2010. The plays told different stories of women caught up in the criminal justice system and were staged in different spaces around the theatre.
‘Dream Pill’ tells the story of two young Nigerian girls trafficked to London for sexual exploitation. It’s a powerful two-hander told from the child’s perspective. It sounds heavy and, of course, it is very dark but it’s beautifully told also with humour and lightness that draws in the audience and keeps them spellbound. The Charged plays are short and flexible which means that many of them have gone onto have a further life. For example, we recently took Fatal Light (Chloe Moss) and Dancing Bears (Sam Holcroft) to Latitude Festival. A powerful 30 minute play, ‘Dream Pill’ works exceptionally well in the Underbelly’s Belly Dancer space.
CM: Why did you bring it to Edinburgh? Have you brought shows to Edinburgh before?
LP: We wanted to re-stage ‘Dream Pill’ as it received such an amazing response from London audiences and critics alike. We brought it to Edinburgh because we’ve long wished to play the Fringe and to open up our work to national and international audiences. We haven’t toured to Edinburgh for several years and haven’t played the Festival since the company’s early days back in the early 80s.
‘Dream Pill’ felt absolutely like the right production to bring to the Festival and we hope to gain international interest because of the relevance of the story: human trafficking and enforced slavery is widespread internationally and Dream Pill itself was researched with specialist NGOs, the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Teams and other specialists. We’ve been invited to perform extracts of it at UK and international conferences to highlight the issues around trafficking and specifically sex-trafficking.
CM: Where will the show go from here?
LP: The production’s been brilliantly received and we’re thrilled with audience and critics’ responses. We know that the important topic of sex-trafficking has been a “popular” theme both this year and last for theatre at the Fringe. Unfortunately the problem of sex-trafficking isn’t going away and, of course, there are a million stories to be told – not just one – about this issue. We’re heartened that audiences have responded so strongly to the production and to the girls’ story. We hope the show will go onto tour – nationally and internationally. In the meantime, we’ve been really busy seeing lots of other shows and really enjoying our time in Edinburgh.
Clean Break’s show ‘Dream Pill’ was performed at Underbelly during Fringe 2011.