Clean Break Clean Break was set up in 1979 by two women prisoners who believed that theatre could bring the hidden stories of imprisoned women to a wider audience. Still the only women’s theatre company of its kind today, Clean Break has remained true to these roots, continuing to inspire playwrights around the complex theme of women and crime - enlightening and entertaining audiences. Integral to this, is the company’s long-established theatre-based education and training programme enabling women offenders and those at risk of offending to develop personal, social, professional and creative skills leading to education and employment.http://www.cleanbreak.org.uk
Billy The Girl, Katie Hims and Clean Break, Soho Theatre, December 2013. Billy is out waiting for love where she last saw it. Her mum is certain love has walked into her life again. Her sister thinks love could still be found somewhere in the house… but Billy herself isn’t even allowed through the door…
PESTS, by Vivienne
Franzmann and Clean Break @ Royal Court.
PESTS, by Vivienne Franzmann and Clean Break @ Royal Court.
PESTS is beautiful, sad, shocking play. Set in Pink’s flat, Pink is a heroine addict living in inescapable squalor unable to break out of cycle of addiction. Rolly, her heavily pregnant sister comes to live with her; she has just got out of prison and is trying to make a fresh start. For an 1 hour 40 minutes the audience is utterly immersed in the world of the sisters’ dual struggle for survival against all the odds of their lives.
The stylised set intervenes in the upmarket aesthetic of the Royal Court. The skeleton of room made of metal pipes, which contains a huge pile of old mattresses, foam, old sofa and dirty duvets, all in a yellowing white. This creates a mix of crack den and child’s dream playground – beautifully echoing the characters tussle between escapism and their gritty reality. Moments of feverous desire for a fix, or psychological pain in the action are exhibited through the projection of flames silently expanding over the foam set. The set itself seems to take up so much of the theatre space that as an audience you are in it. Even though the audience member is watching and not participating – they are still in that world and have the possibility of a new perspective. The artists sophisticatedly explore how to represent psychological deterioration though set design.
Clean Break have a long history of producing work that presents the narratives of imprisoned women’s’ voices that are not normally heard. They run an extensive educational programme alongside their theatre work. It intervenes in the world by confronting the ignorance and assumptions that are persuasive about the people at the bottom: portrayals of the drug addicts, prostitutes, and the “scroungers” that pervade the media. Franzmann, talking about the Royal Court audiences, in the Guardian, says ‘I feel it opens the door on a world that people don't fully understand, and on people that those audiences don't necessarily have any contact with.’ It is a political piece, addressing social injustice. Franzmann says the audience should take away the key message "that vulnerable women being in prison is not helping anybody".’
Franzmann, who wrote the play after running weeks of workshops and talking to women in prisons with Clean Break says that her intention ‘is to show cause and effect, not to sensationalise, not to judge, not to shame.’ The methodology of first hand experience is integral to the work. She says ‘There's no way I could have written this play if I hadn't had access to prison, and to this place, where we have the ex-offenders and the women at risk of offending.’  A question the artists could be using is how to convey to an audience the effects on an individual suffering social isolation? This bares importance to my research as I’d been struggling with the ethics of presenting a story that I didn’t have a personal connection to. The risky ethical implications of performing a vulnerable persons’ story are such, that I decided to take a more conceptual stance in my work, feeding off Pests use of aesthetic rather than subjective experience.
HOME - National Theatre - Shed. Shed, Nadia Fall and Esta Orchard
Home is a verbatim piece of theatre, created by Nadia Fall and Esta Orchard who recorded over 30 hours of interviews with residents of “Target” Hostel in east London, a housing association hostel that houses over 200 young people who need somewhere to live. Most are considered vulnerable.
Characters’ share stories and their idea of ‘home’ with the invisible interviewer. The stories they tell make difficult hearing, but they are not played on for sympathy, a lot are optimistic. Representation of these people’s lives on stage seemed honest. Nadia Fall writes of her relationship with the young people that:
Where there would be a meaningful meeting between us would be as fellow artists, equals learning form each other and making work together.
This relationship between artist and the community is an ethical issue I’ve been dealing with, and similarly I see it as a two way street of contribution. The role of the theatre makers seems to be to facilitate the telling of the stories.
The piece is beautifully staged around the common room of the hostel. There are five entrances to the stage and actors are constantly coming and going from the space, giving the sense of the hustle and bustle, we are made aware that this is a shared space. Setting this as the centre of the piece asks questions of the idea of ‘home’, what makes a home? Do these people feel at home here? Could you? These questions have fed my exploration of what having a ‘home’ means.
At the end the hostel manager tells of the hostels closure and her fears for the young people. This powerful ending means the audience leaves the theatre with message that these cuts are devastating lives of these young people.
This show was performed at the National Theatre, which receives predominately middle class white audiences. In interview with the Evening Standard Fall said, “as a generalisation” that the average National audience member might be a little scared of the young, on the streets, on buses. They might even endorse the “feral creatures” description used during the riots of two summers ago. It was such descriptions that Fall decided she wanted to give young people a voice. In the interview Fall says, “I hope the play puts the real challenge of housing — and the real bottleneck in the system — on the map,” she says politicians “should come and have a look”. The artist has clear political purposes: not only to raise awareness and change perceptions but to intervene in the process of the eradication of social housing for these vulnerable young people. This is something my work aspires towards.
 Fall, “Setting Up Home”, Home Programme, National Theatre, September 2013.
 Nadia Fall, quoted in Louise Jury, Evening Standard, 30 July 2013, http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/writerdirector-nadia-fall-on-home-her-national-theatre-play-about-the-young-and-homeless-8737677.html [10/4/2014]