Clean Break is a theatre company with an independent education programme. Both strands of our work are rooted in the belief that theatre changes lives.
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.
Behind the scenes, we provide high-quality theatre-based courses, qualifications, training opportunities and specialist support which are critical for the rehabilitation of women offenders in prisons and the community. On the stage, we produce ground-breaking and award-winning plays which dramatise women’s experience of, and relationship to, crime and punishment. Our women-only identity is crucial to our history and rationale, and provides us with the most effective model for representing, understanding and meeting the complex needs of women who offend.
The treatment of women by the criminal justice system is one of the clearest demonstrations that our society is still fundamentally unequal and that women are judged by different standards to men. The causes of crime are inextricably linked to poverty, lack of education, racism and poor mental health. Most women offenders have also experienced male violence and are victims of crime, yet first-time women offenders are twice as likely as men to be sent to prison. Black and minority ethnic women comprise over a quarter of the women’s prison population – over three times that in the general population.
Our vision is of a society where women are not criminalised unjustly nor imprisoned unnecessarily. We believe that theatre enables women to challenge their oppression by society in general and by the criminal justice system in particular.
Clean Break has thrived since its establishment and this is testimony to the power of theatre and the strength of the company’s work. The women-only building in Kentish Town provides a safe space where transformation and learning become possible. The unique repertory which has been created by playwrights commissioned by Clean Break, and the ongoing relationship between these writers and the company, is something of which we are immensely proud. Clean Break has used theatre to put the issue of women in prison firmly on the cultural map and to reveal the damage caused by the failures of the criminal justice system. Through the theatre we make we continue to raise difficult questions with our growing audience, initiate debate more widely and work towards effecting profound and positive change in the lives of women offenders.