the prison record

03Mar12


This is B Wing in the ‘New Building’, Old Adelaide Gaol. It has pretty much been my home since I arrived here in Australia two weeks ago. The last inmates may have departed in 1988, but their tracings and crude artworks still remain on the cell walls as snapshot reminders of prison interests and frustrations: Notched-up days, drawn beach-babes; boy-racer coupés, needles, aboriginal flags; poems with bad spelling; the names of bikes and biker bands and biker gangs; Veiled threats and jokes at the Screws’ expense.

Over the peephole of many of the cell doors can be seen “F.T.W.”, not the initials of a well-travelled inmate but a rebuttal to the world outside.

South Australia was the first state to be established as a free state (that is, settled not on the basis of convict labour) and the gaol was built in 1841, a few years after the first settlers arrived here in Adelaide.

Old Gaols are not the easiest places to make performances in. The acoustics are difficult, there is rarely access to power/light and the spaces are, well …too small! They carry a heavy weight of history and the atmosphere is often thick and energy-sapping. This was certainly true of Belfast’s Crumlin Rd. Gaol when Nick Walker and I led an interdisciplinary performance intervention with students at Queen’s Uni in 2009 as part of Anna Newell’s excellent MA programme.

But it was after a visit to Lincoln Gaol that Richard Chew and Cheryl Pickering came up with the idea for this current piece, “Instructions for an Imaginary Man”, which opens as part of the Adelaide Festival next week. Drawing from the poems of prisoners of conscience, Rick wrote a song cycle which formed the heart of the original work, “Solitary”, which was performed as a concert in the Victorian Gaol at Lincoln back in 1998 under our company moniker of The Resurrectionists. The following year, Craig Stephens and I created a performance response to the song cycle, working with film-maker Lesley Stapleford. Thus, in front of the grand piano/string quartet/clarinet/singers we created a theatre space with it’s own parallel visual text. The show was not so much site-specific, as site-responsive and we realised that the show could travel beyond it’s peculiar birth-place. Subsequently a version travelled to Stamford Arts Centre, Battersea (BAC) and our beloved MAC in Birmingham.

13 years later, and with the new company Various People building a strong reputation for itself as local producers of music-theatre, we have a wonderful opportunity to present the song-cycle in the setting of Old Adelaide Gaol as part of the official Adelaide Festival, which was launched here in the City last night. I have been working with film-maker/lighting designer Nic Mollison to recreate from scratch our visual responses to the Gaol and in the next couple of days the production / music elements come together for the first time.

Instructions for an Imaginary Man runs from tuesday 6th March – sunday 11th March with performances nightly at 7pm. (additional shows 3pm saturday, 9.30pm sunday)

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