On Friday night Key Change was performed for the last time (for this tour) at West End Women & Girls Centre. It was an emotional night as it was dedicated to the late Mrs Robinson and we had taken Key Change into Low Newton prison that morning.
Going back into the prison is always good for the company, cast and crew as it’s an opportunity to touch the stone at the heart of this show.
In the prison chapel the women gathered, and it felt to us that we had many Angie’s sitting in the audience. There were a few who had seen the show before on previous visits, but for the majority it was their first time. They laughed, cried and recognised – themselves and the context of their lives, that of the prison system and the wider society.
During the post show the women shared their need to have others know that they weren’t born ‘criminals’, that there is always a story behind and it so very often has domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse threaded throughout. Like the characters in Key Change say ‘it’s not an excuse but it’s a reality’ and it is linked to why the women are there.
I think the play was brilliant – you got it spot on. I think it should be shown to younger children to prevent them coming to jail… And I like the part where you mentioned mental health – its spot on… we need more help with mental health in here. Big respect to you all and I hold my hat off to you. (Woman in HMP Low Newton)
We got to see some of the women from our new production SUGAR. We had expected one of the women who has inspired a throughline in the play to already have been released, but she was still there, which was a relief as we had been expecting contact on the outside and when we hadn’t heard we worried; her aim is to not stumble, to keep walking and to live her life – and we’d worried she’d got out and stumbled. She’s waiting for things to be put in place still; accommodation, support and stepping stones that will support her to transition from prison to life outside, and to survive.
Another woman from SUGAR told us how now she is a Listener in the prison, that she can now read and write. Women who are trying to turn their life around, get it back on track, make a change and we’re hoping that SUGAR supports that voice, and what needs to be in place, so women don’t rewind and go back through that revolving door.
Making another rewind and on Wednesday, Key Change was performed in a referral unit. 90% of the school attended, again they laughed and some cried. One of the teachers said that to have 90% of the school share an experience together wasn’t the norm, it was a huge achievement. This is the second production we have taken into this unit, and we have made a commitment to continue this relationship for the next four to five years; like going back into the prison this audience feeds the creative team, this is a special audience and it was an honour to perform there.
I loved the play. It made me laugh and realise how hard it is in prison (young man in referral unit)
If we rewind to the beginning of last week, to Monday 28th November, we had just opened at West End Women & Girls, Jill Heslop and Rosie Morris had carried a ton of staging up the stairs to ensure our audiences could see the action onstage and the room became a theatre; a theatre that is at the heart of the local community in Elswick – and the community came in, but not just local; men and women came from afar brought by the shining star that is Key Change (my Catholicism is ingrained so apologies).
Fast forward to today and Key Change starts its final week of Open Clasp’s first National Tour. It will be in Stockton, Middlesbrough and then back at Live Theatre. Due to demand, Key Change will go back out in the New Year – it just keeps rolling – unlocking doors, hearts and minds.
Rewind back to 2014, to that prison chapel were we sat with the women. We had not a clue what was going to happen next. I have no idea if any of those women will read this blog but if they do, this final week is dedicated to you…