We are looking for a compassionate, organised Admin & Support Worker to provide emotional and practical support to our Members, and administrative support to ensure the successful delivery and evaluation of our Members and Outreach Programmes.
Around 50-70 Members are actively engaged across Clean Break’s work at any time, with the majority participating in our core Members Programme. You’ll ensure they have the best possible access to our activities, be it online, in our building or in other venues, and work with them to understand any access or engagement issues.
Under the guidance of our Support Manager, you’ll also work with Members to support their mental health, drug/alcohol, financial, emotional, welfare and education/career needs. And you’ll provide this support in a combination of ways: through one-to-one support, assessment, action planning, partnership building / signposting and any other appropriate support measures.
You’ll bring recent experience of providing direct support for vulnerable women and young adults using a trauma-informed approach. You’ll know how to work across complex needs and be skilled at diffusing challenging situations when necessary. And you’ll have excellent admin skills, ensuring we have effective admin and communication systems and insightful, accurate data to evaluate the impact of our work.
The salary for this role is £25,000 a year.
You don’t need to have an arts qualification, or a university degree or college education, to work with us.
Please read the Recruitment Pack before applying for this role.
The deadline for this role is 10am on Monday 8 November.
We are holding two online information sessions about this role on 21 October at 10am and 1 November at 2pm, please read the Recruitment Pack for more information.
Because our work is about highlighting women’s experiences and providing gender-specific services to women, all of our positions are open to women only (exempt under Equality Act 2010 Schedule 9, part 1).
Our new play Typical Girls, a co-production with Sheffield Theatres, is set in a PIPEs unit of a women's prison. In the play, a group of women in the unit attend music workshops, led by a facilitator who introduces them to the music of The Slits.
The play asks if rebellion can ever be allowed within such a restricted regime, and highlights tensions with those in the outside world who do not want public money spent on more progressive practices, like music workshops. But as the character Jane says in the play, "it’s not just fun. Ok?"
So what is a PIPEs unit, and how are they different to the rest of the prison estate? Lucinda Bolger is a Clinical & Forensic Psychologist, and the National Clinical Development Lead for PIPEs. In this blog she tells us what these specialised units are and how they work.
Women who are in prison often face complex circumstances and are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged women in our society.
In terms of what the ‘data’ says:
Women are 20% more likely to be recalled to prison than men, despite being less likely to reoffend.
What are PIPEs? PIPEs are Psychologically Informed Planned Environments, and are a key part of the ‘Offender Personality Disorder Strategy’, or OPD (NHS England & Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service). There are currently 29 PIPEs across England, with 20 in prisons (three which are in women’s prisons) and 9 in Approved Premises (two of which are for women).
PIPEs are designed to work to the four high level outcomes for the OPD pathway, which are;
(i) to reduce the risk of reoffending
(ii) to improve psychological wellbeing and prosocial behaviour
(iii) to improve the competence and confidence of staff and
(iv) to increase the efficiency and quality of services.
People who have been ‘assessed’ as suitable for the pathway are likely to have complex emotional needs, often linked to difficult and disruptive early lives.
What does a Psychologically Informed Planned Environment look like? This depends on where you experience it; a Preparation PIPE in a ‘high secure’ prison, is likely to feel very different to a PIPE in the community. What they all have in common however are the six core components, and their relational approach.
Some of these core components are designed to help the staff working in difficult circumstances, to do so in a thoughtful and ‘planned’ way, by which we mean when approaching another person on the unit, they are able to ‘hold in mind’ who that person is, and how/why they may be feeling/behaving the way they are. On-going staff Training and Supervision (both group and individual) are core components of the PIPE model.
Perhaps one of the more innovative components of the PIPE model are the Socially Creative sessions and linked to this their enrichment activities. It is important to understand that creativity and creative interaction have central roles in our upbringing, and that people whose childhoods were focussed on survival often missed out on these activities. There is much to be said for the significance this can have on development, and in PIPEs our emphasis is on prosocial relating – connecting, belonging, achieving, winning, losing, and joining.
Key working is also a core component. Everyone who lives on a PIPE is allocated a key worker; someone to discuss issues with both large and small. This can be a challenging but rewarding part of the PIPE, as allowing yourself to attach to another person when you have been badly let down in the past is often an unnerving thing to do.
Structured Sessions are small groups which bring together people who live on the PIPE. They usually have a ‘criminogenic’ focus, which means they help participants further explore issues which may have contributed to their offence. They will often have a psychoeducational emphasis, perhaps learning about attachment styles for example.
PIPEs operate a whole-environment approach, and that process is supported by engaging with the Enabling Environments quality processes offered by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In Enabling Environments there is a focus on creating a positive and effective social environment where healthy relationships are key to success, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists provide a kite mark when that quality can be demonstrated.
Photo credit: Helen Murray
To mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Hole’s debut punk-rock album ‘Pretty on the Inside’, Courtney Love partnered with Parliament Tattoo in London to curate a charity exhibition of 30 pieces of original art, inspired by the influential record.
As a friend and supporter of Clean Break, Courtney selected us to be a beneficiary of this exclusive art auction, which was held on 2-3 October and is now available online, along with fellow women’s charity, Treasures Foundation.
The exhibition showcased 30 original pieces of art from Cherry Lazar, Bella Kidman-Cruise, Emma Black and a host of other talented artists who all found inspiration in Hole’s iconic album.
The weekend of celebrations included live acoustic performances and DJ sets, while some guests showed their love for the band by getting Hole inspired tattoos from resident Parliament Tattoo artists.
There is still time to bid on these unique, original pieces of art, as the auction continues online until Monday 18 October. You can take a virtual tour around the event space through a 3D render of the exhibition.
Courtney Love recently attended Through This Mist, a Clean Break production performed in the intimate setting of our courtyard in Summer 2021, and thought the production was ‘marvellous’.
''Clean Break gives [women] theatre and music, gives them words. Gives them wings. Voices. Gives you: culture.'' - Courtney Love
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We are so excited to be recognised in this way and to be involved in celebrating such an influential album. This charity art auction comes at the perfect time for Clean Break, as we are celebrating feminist rebellion and immersing ourselves in punk with our bold new play, Typical Girls by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and featuring music by The Slits.
Hole’s music, like The Slits, embodies the ferocious and unapologetic attitude of punk which continues to inspire artists today. At Clean Break, we can’t stop listening to the iconic tracks that shape this genre, so we created a playlist. Listen along with us here.
Photo credits: Derek Bremner
Tell us about Paradise?
Paradise, even to say the name is paradise! Everything about it: the way that Rae Smith (set & costume designer) has done the set especially, as soon as we went on there, we felt the paradise that we've all been talking about in the rehearsal room.
It is so different because it's a Greek myth but it's very urban. For me it’s the language and the rhyming, and to know that for Kae Tempest (writer) their natural sense is rapping and spoken word. So, it is a glory, it is paradise to be part of something that really feels like paradise!
What were rehearsals like?
I'm not gonna lie, when you first walk into rehearsals and you really get a load of the script you think to yourself, how am I gonna fit into this? But it was just absolutely glorious to see during the rehearsal period how we all could bounce off each other.
One of the most amazing things was when maybe we weren't saying our lines quite right, because we’re still learning and you’ve got to be quick in order to hear the rhythm that’s underneath it all, and then Kae would jump up, say the lines or the section that we're reading and it just it blew us away. It's like “right everyone, fix up! Right that's it, say it again!” So, we kept on it, so that we got that same rhythm as if we were one person saying it. The word “chorus,” you hear it, and you think movement and stylising but really it's one voice. If you're a true chorus, you become that one person. That was an absolute treat.
Do you think that was the most challenging part of rehearsals?
Yeah absolutely, because you want to hear the same rhythm that it's written in. You want to do honours and justice to the way that Kae has taken time out to marry those words and make them make sense, so you want to give that back. So, for me was quite challenging.
It sounds like a really nice company.
Yeah it really is. I mean obviously I was a bit shell-shocked when I got the part, and now I'm the one that runs around going “oh can I have your autograph!” I know that it doesn't look cool doing it when you're part of the company. So, I'm just going around asking them to sign my programme, as my own memento.
And when you recognise actors like Leslie Sharp and you think, wow am I worthy of being here? Can I sustain this stage that you've opened up for us? Do you know what I mean? So you know it's a beautiful challenge.
How did you feel when you first stepped on to the stage?
I felt like my soul had left my body and it wasn't actually me on the stage. I was actually looking down and looking at this person which was actually me on this stage. So that was one thing to get over. I've never been on the stage like the Olivier, let's face it, and the first time we went on Jeanette our voice coach asked each of us to deliver a line. So, everyone did theirs and I delivered mine and it caused the sense of “stop what the hell!” You know what I mean? It was overwhelming to be there.
I tried to explain to people that stage isn't the hard part for me, to project and all that, because I've been trained to talk to that man up on that roof as opposed to that person just there. I can't help that, but I do find that in TV they say Jen that's really great but could you just bring it down somewhat and now that's more of a challenge.
And you know at Clean Break we're not good at bringing it down, we like bigger!
And that's what I love! That's what I'm saying! My training comes from things like Clean Break because that's my first taste for theatre. It's because of Clean Break that I was able to then get taught by Phyllida Lloyd and Harriet Walter and know that I have to give the same as they do on stage even though they’re seasoned to it.
So, let's talk about Clean Break for a little bit …do you want to explain your relationship with Clean Break?
Now at this point in my life, I consider Clean Break my absolute haven of hearts. It picked me up as a broken person, put me back together, and put me back out in the world even better than I was the first time. That in itself is testimony.
I was able to study there—I mean even now you get a little bit of shaming because you didn't attend drama school—but actually I attended Clean Break so call it what you like but I had the creme de la creme of teaching. I had names that are so big out there that I couldn't have got better at drama school. Being at Clean Break also meant that I got more intimate teaching.
I remember Yolanda who taught me to speak Shakespeare for the first time. I was playing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet with a Jamaican accent, don't play! Yolanda put a panel together for our exams and one of the panellists was a casting director for the Donmar at the time, but I don't think she ever imagined that she would be employing me so soon after something like that! She said to me that in the 30 odd years she'd been doing Shakespeare that's the best she'd ever heard the Nurse.
That’s the thing about Clean Break we all care about each other and there's like real heart in everything.
Real heart, absolutely. In my first interview and remember this is on the back of one: just coming out of jail, and two: feeling like a child again. That even though I'd spent all this life and I've got kids and I've got a home, but I just couldn't find myself. When I found Clean Break, it was a complete safe haven. That first day when I walked in, I spoke with the two Jackies and I told them my story and I cried, and they reassured me and that was a turning point in my life. I never looked back after that. After feeling that I was allowed to be damaged, it was just about the joy now of rebuild.
Now I can't even remember me not being a performer, it’s part of who I am.
I think the sad thing for me I wish I'd heard about Clean Break sooner, when I was in prison and maybe I would have been more involved sooner. But as they say time’s the master, nothing before the time yada yada. But prisons need to know about Clean Break because there's not a lot of girls that are going to come out from that sort of situation and have the time, the care, or the worry to be finding out about it. It was actually a friend of mine that introduced me.
You mentioned the Donmar, should we talk a little about the Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy? When did that happen and how did that come about?
Phyllida Lloyd (director) decided she was going to do her first Shakespearean trilogy and because Shakespeare is so biased against women, her challenge was to make it an all-female cast and have women playing the roles we’ve been told we can’t play. I don’t know what she'd watched that day or year but then she wanted to place it inside prison. Which was a joy for me because Harriet, the Dame, is a Patron of Clean Break, so when Phyllida said she wanted all women but she wanted some authenticity towards it, Harriet introduced her to Clean Break and they set up a workshop with about eight or ten of us. I didn't really honestly have a clue what I was doing, I just saw it as a great experience no matter what happens at the end of it. So when Anna (Herrmann) or Lucy (Perman), said “Jen, the Donmar have been on and they want you.” For a minute, you know, it doesn't register, you're looking at it like, Who? What? When it started to resonate, I felt my legs sort of give way, I felt sort of dizzy and like confused but joyous. That made me one of the original members from 2012 right through to 2016.
Do you have any great memories you can share?
I really do, and I’ll tell you why the memories are even more great because at the end of each run, the Julius Caesar, the Henry and The Tempest, I didn't get to go to America with the transfer. So, it was bittersweet but I couldn't afford to let the joy of being part of something so humongous and so great then be dragged down with the fact of disappointment caused by biased, small minded people.
One of my favourite things you’ve done was Inside Bitch at the Royal Court
Inside Bitch wow what a journey that was. That was a different experience all together. We didn't know who we were, what we were doing, where we were going. What this is about? What's it for? Why do you want me to do this? We didn't have a clue we just went in there and we trusted. I think this is what’s important as well, we trusted Clean Break, you know what I mean?
Two writers, Stacy Gregg and Deborah Pearson, wanted to do a written piece and get some stories from people of lived experience. So, Terri Ann, Jade, Lucy and I went in, and we were just sitting around, and it became so comfortable that we were just having conversations, just talking about our experiences because we'd all been there. So, they went off about a year and a half later we were called back. They had given us these scripts and they just wanted us to say them, but we became frustrated because I was saying “nobody talks like this! Where'd you get this writing from?” and they explained, “well it's actually yourselves, all we did was put them into transcript.”
And we were like “oh nobody talks like… oh no… I talk like that! I feel like a twit now! Because I'm the one who actually talks like!”
So… we took it on the chin, and then we started to embrace it. Then when you read it feels real because it's actually our own personal stories told in a way that is was a far cry different from how TV and places like that portray that kind of situation.
Then we're getting into it, and we're doing it. Deborah and Stacy wanted me to go into this box to tell this hella intimate story that I thought we were just having a conversation about. So, I became a little bit frustrated because I didn't understand. When I got the understanding and the realisation of what this meant when you put it all together, it made for such a different feel.
It was such a powerful piece because everyone wanted to be your mate when you were watching it, and it was so fun and funny, and then suddenly it was like bang, it really caught you off guard.
Yeah, it was so powerful and that's good. It was powerful being in it too because, well, I’m not saying going to prison is a forgettable thing, but my kids came to see it and it wasn't until I come out the box and the realisation of that whole situation hit me. My 21-year-old son was sitting in the front row in the audience crying because they'd not thought about it for all these years. Then all of a sudden there it was: my mum was talking about it, very loudly in black and white. Not because they're ashamed, it's just that they've not thought about it. My daughter who's older than him, you could see a makeup stream down her face. In that moment, luckily Deborah and Stacy are so good they allowed us to be who we needed to be in that play, so when I came out the box there's no way I could have just carried on without approaching my kids. Everybody noticed, but then it was a bit of a talker because everyone wanted to know whether it was part of the play or not, so they felt like they got the best treat of a play to see the embrace of me and my children after that moment of me coming out that box telling that story.
I mean that's as real life as theatre gets, and as you say, you’re not forgetting about it, but your life is so transformed in that moment, from what you are talking about to you being an actor standing on the stage of the Royal Court, to now standing on the stage of the Olivier.
Yeah exactly and like the journey that we've just spoken about, I thought Donmar was as big as it got and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I can only give eternal everlasting thanks to Clean Break because they were the start of loving me, wanting me, helping me, fixing me, and allowing me to be me.
Well I think that's quite a good place to end, but before we do now that you're nearly finished your run, apart from having a very well earned rest, what are you going to do? What's next for Jen Jo?
I don't even know if a rest will come! I've got the best agent in the world, and she is on it. So, I appreciate a rest, but if a rest don't come I'm still not going to complain.
I went through an audition this morning and I've got one tomorrow. I can only hope and pray to get them because that, for me, would be a nice next step.
In Clean Break's new production Typical Girls a group of women discover the music of punk rock band The Slits and form their own group. In this guest blog Sara Lee, Artistic Director of the Irene Taylor Trust, talks about the transformative work of music in prisons and best practise for delivery.
“Miss, are you mad, it’s never gonna happen”.
This is usually the response when we mention we’re going to write four or five new songs and then perform them to an audience at the end of the week. It’s a key moment, the whole project can fall apart at this point if the reassurance doesn’t come quicky, along with a guarantee that we are going to guide them through it and be there to the end. We know we can get a group of non-musicians through a creative process with people doing things they never thought possible, but at this point, the women don’t.
“Miss, none of us have ever done this before.”
“That’s what every group says, and every time so far it’s worked.”
“But we might be the first group where it doesn’t work…” followed by lots of laughter.
At this point, some commit and others teeter on the edge needing more reassurance. Only very occasionally is it a bridge too far or too big a risk for someone to take at that time. Trust needs to be gained very early on and if the group sees you’re professional and authentic then you’ve got yourself the best start.
Making a project work in a prison is a series of negotiations with everyone and everything you encounter. If we’ve been to a place before, staff are confident because they know us, they know what happens, and they know the women will end the project with new skills, a new outlook and a huge sense of wellbeing. If it’s a new prison, then the negotiations are the same you’d have with your group, and involve listening, understanding and reassuring. Getting a van load of musical equipment into a workspace requires trust and communication, and right from the start, your actions need to show that you are working alongside staff to achieve the same ends for the women, albeit in a different way than might happen on the wings.
Supporting the women to have the best experience takes patience and understanding. We want to celebrate their achievements in a space where they probably never thought they could achieve anything at all. Staff are huge allies at this point, as we are rarely aware of anyone’s back story and how, potentially, writing a song about something precious which they may have lost could affect them. Staff are with them every day and can keep an eye out, to support where necessary or maybe celebrate an important step in the healing process. The kind of engagement we get in a creative space is often different than it is on the wing so it’s important to work WITH staff rather than be there to disrupt. Saying that, the arts SHOULD disrupt and make people think, but in a sensitively balanced and regime-driven environment, the disruption needs to be ‘safer’, more of a shakeup than incendiary. You achieve this by bringing people along for the ride and involving them in what’s happening.
It takes skill to achieve a high quality, artistic outcome within a restricted regime. Time is often against you, women don’t show or get transferred, the space you’re working in is booked or they have visits or other appointments they can’t miss. And we often have to navigate the subject of lyrical content. We discuss who may hear the tracks and how the recording is how each of them will be remembered by those who listen. If you broach the subject fairly and openly, the response will invariably be positive.
Balancing personalities, regimes and everything else in order to produce the best outcome means you can’t take your eye off any of the balls in the air. Artists need to be at the top of their game with their artform and the logistics, whilst at the same time guiding a group of women through a new process where there’s every chance they may remember the past, fear failure and quit. They’ve placed all their trust in us to make it work at this point and this is one of the challenges for the artist. Projects don’t work effectively if you alienate anyone and working together has longer term benefits. At the end of the project, staff and women have something in common, they’ve both fully engaged to make it work and because of that, the outcome is ultimately thrilling. You hear the words, “Miss, you were right, we did it”, and then you watch them leave the space, high fiving their mates and hearing staff tell them they were brilliant. There’s not much to match that feeling of joy for any of us.
There is nothing negative about the arts. Everyone benefits, even if it’s to express why they prefer something else. They have engaged with it, thought about it and expressed an opinion which is just as valid as the next persons. Those who have created it have dug deep to convey something important to them, and then been brave enough to offer it to others. This is so valuable in prisons where individuality can be lost. Music and the arts brings prisons to life, whether it be a mural on a wall or the sound of a band rehearsing in the chapel. Prisons are undoubtedly better places to live and work when arts subjects are embedded in the regime and recognised and celebrated for what they are and the impact we all know they have.
I am thrilled to be running the London Marathon on behalf of Clean Break. As one of the greatest sporting events in the capital it is a huge honour to have been chosen to represent the company and fundraise in support of its incredible work. I am aiming to raise £2,000 by race day on Sunday 3 October and you can support my efforts here.
The training process has been very exciting because it is bookended with two shows – the first in-person production we’ve hosted for audiences since March 2020, Through This Mist, a live outdoor performance at Clean Break in July, and our first main house show since November 2019, Typical Girls which opens at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on 23 September, just 10 days before the marathon. This means I have been scheduling my practice runs in between rehearsals, production weeks and opening nights.
In fact, over the coming weeks I will be taking on hilly Sheffield for my short mid-week runs, as I am joining the company for rehearsals there. The first day of rehearsals was highly emotional, as the company was embraced by the warmest welcome from the team at Sheffield Theatres, before a table read of the script which instantly brought the story to life.
I loved going for a morning 5k run on day two, the perfect time to reflect on the experiences of the day before, which also offered a distraction from some of the steepest streets in the UK. Running in a new city is a fascinating way to explore it and I was enjoying the adventure of turning onto new streets and seeing where they take me. This is a breath of fresh air, compared to my usual highly regimented approach to running, which requires precise routes, distances, paces and duration. As someone who doesn’t enjoy running in circles, I need to plan my London runs carefully, so I cover a necessary distance without needing to do loops, and it’s been very invigorating to run somewhere new, ditch the planning and just go for it!
Knowing that after my run I get to go to the Crucible and get a glimpse of the magic happening in the rehearsal room is always super exciting and definitely helps me power through the occasional surprise hill, which this city has plenty of. As the weeks progress and the rehearsal process intensifies, bringing together the acting, the live music and the captivating story of the play, so will my running, offering me new challenges to keep me sharp and get me marathon ready.
This year’s marathon is extra special because it marks 4 years since I started at Clean Break! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate this occasion, than to premiere an incredible new play and do my bit to raise funds for the company.
We are putting together a team of friendly, patient and practical part-time Operations Assistants to form the backbone of three essential aspects of our work:
This is a fixed term, minimum hours contract for an initial period of one year while we trial this new approach for Clean Break. Contracts will be for a commitment to some regular weekday daytime hours each week, with additional hours during evenings and weekends offered when available on a casual basis.
You’ll be brilliant at communicating with and supporting a wide range of people. Being able to deal with a range of customer behaviours and remaining calm in difficult situations is essential, you’ll be able to demonstrate a strong understanding of how to provide a safe and welcoming space for vulnerable women. Our practice is trauma-informed, and we provide staff with training to support this environment. You’ll also be comfortable in your own company, as there will be periods of time when you are by yourself in the reception area, and the last to leave the building and lock up.
Based generally in our reception area, Operations Assistants will regularly work around the building introducing new and potential hirers to our spaces, setting up rooms for staff and hirers, keeping us safe by handling first aid and basic building safety, and sorting out signage. Some shifts will naturally be more desk based, focused on welcoming visitors and dealing with general enquiries and admin, others more practical. You’ll be a natural multi-tasker, confident having a go at a range of admin and practical tasks, and able to organise your own time and priorities effectively.
You don’t need previous experience working in an arts organisation to do this role.
The deadline for this role is 10am, Tuesday 31 August
Directed by Clean Break’s Joint Artistic Director Róisín McBrinn (Afterplay, Sheffield Theatres) full casting includes Helen Cripps (Women Beware Women, Shakespeare’s Globe), Lucy Edkins ([BLANK], Donmar Warehouse), Lucy Ellinson (Run Sister Run, Sheffield Theatres), Eddy Queens (Through This Mist, Clean Break), Alison Fitzjohn (Take That’s – The Band Musical, UK Tour), Lara Grace Ilori (Living Newspaper Edition 6, Royal Court) and Carrie Rock (Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse/St Ann's Warehouse, New York).
“This is punk. This is rebellion. This is how we make change. This is what we need to do.”
From writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (Emilia) and featuring the music of influential all-female punk band, The Slits, Typical Girls is part gig, part play and is funny, fierce and furious.
In a specialised unit inside a prison, a group of women discover the music of punk rock band The Slits and form their own group. An outlet for their frustration, they find remedy in revolution. But in a system that suffocates, can rebellion ever be allowed?
Róisín McBrinn, Joint Artistic Director of Clean Break: “We’re over the moon to be co-producing this raucous, explosive show! Morgan’s script is electric, and we have a stellar creative team and hugely exciting cast. Clean Break is so proud to be returning with this joyous, important play and to be exploding it onto the beautiful Crucible stage!”
Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres: “We couldn’t be more excited to be producing such a bold, riotous new play with a company as inspiring as Clean Break, and can’t wait to welcome this brilliant cast and creative team into the rehearsal room.”
Returning to the Crucible are Lucy Ellinson, following her starring role in Run Sister Run in 2020; and Róisín McBrinn, after directing the 2014 production Afterplay by Brian Friel.
Typical Girls will be at the Crucible Theatre from 24 September to 16 October with the performance on 6 October live-streamed and available to watch online. Tickets will be available from sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
Writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director Róisín McBrinn
Musical Director Rosie Bergonzi
Casting Director Nadine Rennie CDG
Assistant Director Aaliyah Mckay
Designer Kat Heath
Lighting Designer Katy Morrison
Associate Lighting Designer Rachel Cleary
Sound Designer Beth Duke
Movement Director Chi San Howard
Music Director Mentor Yshani Perinpanayagam
Line Producer 45 North
Featuring the music of The Slits
'I am a theatre’ celebrates four decades of Clean Break creating groundbreaking theatre on women’s experience of the criminal justice system. Incorporating previously unseen archival material, it traces the origins of Clean Break from two women who met in HMP Durham’s high security ‘H-Wing’ in 1977, to setting up a drama workshop for women inside HMP Askham Grange, and establishing Clean Break after release in 1979 as a ‘women prisoners theatre’.
Since then, Clean Break has staged over 100 original plays that shine a light on the hidden lives of women caught up in the criminal justice system. With original scripts, artwork and photography, I am a theatre traces the remarkable story of a company whose story encompasses over 40 years of radical theatre, feminism and justice in the UK.
Watch the exhibition tour video documenting how it was made, and including interviews with the designers and Exhibition Guides here:
We are looking for an Assistant Director for Typical Girls by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm.
Typical Girls is a co-production between Clean Break and Sheffield Theatres premiering at the Crucible Theatre. The production will be directed by Clean Break's Joint Artistic Director, Róisín McBrinn.
In a mental health unit inside a prison, a group of women discover the music of punk rock band The Slits and form their own group. An outlet for their frustration, they find remedy in revolution. But in a system that suffocates, can rebellion ever be allowed?
Typical Girls is a funny, fierce and furious new play with the songs of 1970's all female punk band, The Slits at its heart. It will feature a cast of seven women including Members of Clean Break and both companies are hugely excited about returning to the stage with this provocative, joyful, rude celebration of rebellion and interrogation of the injustices that women in experience in British prisons.
The deadline for submitting applications for this role is Monday 2 August, 10am.
At the launch of the Clean Break Archive, a unique collection of 40 years of playscripts, news reel, film clips, stories, songs, poems and letters, I talked with Jacqui Holborough and Jenny Hicks about how and why they started this life saving theatre company. The answer took me to the heart of Clean Break’s role and mission and to a story still being told.
Picking up from the point Jenny and Jacqui met in HMP Durham, a high security jail designed for men who had committed violent crimes including the great train robbers of the 1960s, the theme was survival and the cruel disregard for women in prison. By 1971, HMP Durham had closed its doors to rioting men who wouldn’t tolerate its jail within a jail confinement. But in 1974, it was suddenly deemed acceptable to re-open for women. This was a place Professor of Sociology, Laurie Taylor described as psychologically the worse he had ever seen and by the Mountbatten report (1966) as "conditions in small, confined units that no civilised country should tolerate."
As Jenny and Jacqui said: "there weren’t enough, if any women, that met the criteria (3 out of 35 were category A). We were put there to make up the numbers."
Women trying to put on plays as a means of coping with intolerable conditions proved too much for the HMP Durham wing governor who condemned them “having fun in the yard”. She rejected the prospect of rehearsing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar as a “security risk”.
It wasn’t till they re-connected on transfer to HMP Askham Grange prior to release that they were able to build a platform that was to become a creative centre and a source of support and advocacy for thousands of women. As Jenny said: "We moved from the highest to the lowest level of security. We could have just walked out of there. Yet, we still needed a form of expression that was meaningful, not just distraction."
The launch was to celebrate 40 years of the work of Clean Break but the injustice of the coronavirus pandemic hung over our conversation. Still locked away behind official myth and judicial hypocrisy were thousands of women in 14 jails banged up for 23 hours a day with no visits, no work, no education.
Despite places with little ventilation and poor hygiene being ideal conditions for viral transmission; despite women being incarcerated for minor crimes, often for a first offence, often with serious mental health issues; and despite the devastating impact on their health and well-being, future life chances and the lives of children and families who need them, only 15 out of many women promised were actually released.
"You have to keep going back to the principles, the spirit of Clean Break," Jenny said, "to understand why it survived. It’s because the voices of these women trapped by the impact of the coronavirus and all women incarcerated have got be heard."
After their transfer to HMP Askham Grange, Jenny and Jacqui’s ambition to write and perform plays foregrounding women’s experience having "grown tired of always playing men’s parts" was fostered by the governor, Susan McCormick. Their two-hour show Efemera was performed to a full house at York Arts Centre. Appearing as ‘Ask ‘em out’, this was the first time a group of prisoners had performed to a general audience outside prison, and they were well received by local critics.
Efemera programme, Arts Centre York 1978
Susan McCormick saw through the dominant narrative about women who commit crimes. She celebrated the quality and value of writing and performance. She provided opportunities for women to grow and recover. Her empathy drove round bureaucracy overcoming the climate of opprobrium that drags women’s progress. She provided space to workshop, stages for plays and support beyond release. Susan’s letters of recommendation for Jenny and Jacqui and the emergent Clean Break (displayed in the archive) are probably the only Home Office memos on record that combine official business with a ‘PS’ reporting that a promised costume has been found. The nun's outfit was for A Question of Habit, a play written by Jacqui and performed to an amazing response at the Edinburgh Festival, building on the success of winning a Koestler Award at the Royal Court Theatre - the first of many awards won by Clean Break.
Jacqui’s postcard back to Susan from Edinburgh identifies the essence of survival. Her few words reveal the joy in a relationship drawn from shared understanding of creativity that transcends prejudice and transforms lives.
"Susan was a friend," Jacqui said, "until her dying day."
Susan helped them construct the possibility of life beyond prison, award winning plays presented at home and internationally, onstage and on television. Jenny and Jacqui built a theatre company that succeeds in its mission of “changing lives and changing minds”. They sparked a network of much needed support organisations for women: Women in Prison, Hibiscus, Women in Secure Hospitals (WISH) and the Creative and Supportive Trust for women (CAST). Susan’s empathy and Jenny and Jacqui’s creativity kicked off a company that started from life inside and reaches hearts and minds on the out.
Not so much a history, the archive is alive to injustice still present, isolation and vulnerability still felt, change still needed.
Dr Alison Frater (March 2021)
The I am theatre exhibition celebrates Clean Break's 40-year history as a radical theatre company, documenting our heritage through previously unseen archival material and specially commissioned interviews and installations.
The exhibition is at Swiss Cottage Gallery and is open until 31 July.
Monday to Thursday: 11am-6pm
Friday and Saturday: 11am-3.30pm
For further information and to book your free tickets click here.
A new punk musical play set in a mental health unit inside a prison, a group of women discover the music of punk rock band The Slits and form their own group. An outlet for their frustration, they find remedy in revolution. But in a system that suffocates, can rebellion ever be allowed?
Part-gig, part-play, Typical Girls is funny, fierce and furious.
Beginning the new season in the Crucible, Typical Girls runs from Friday 24 September – Saturday 16 October 2021.
Robert Hastie, Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres said:
‘’We kick off with the world premiere of a new play by one of the UK’s most remarkable writers. For Typical Girls, by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, we’re thrilled to be working with the fantastic company Clean Break. Part gig, part-play this riotous new show sees a group of women light up through their journey into punk rock."
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is the writer behind The Globe hit Emilia which transferred to the West End in 2019. She has written a number of plays for Hampstead Theatre, The Old Vic, Lyric Hammersmith, Firehouse Productions and Clean Break.
Her new play Mum will premiere at Soho Theatre this autumn. Current screen work includes an original treatment for Gaumont, an untitled book adaptation for Gaumont/Moonage and two episodes of a comedy drama for Merman Films. She is also under commission to adapt both Emilia and The Wasp as feature films.
This production was originally co-commissioned by Clean Break with the Royal Shakespeare Company who also contributed to its early development.
Tickets are on sale from 17 July 2021.
To find out more information on our current productions click here.
In Britain and many other places, June signals celebrations of pride for LGBTQ+ people. ‘Pride Month’ is an important time to recognise and acknowledge the struggles and achievements of LGBTQ+ communities. The origins of contemporary Pride Month can be traced to June 1969 when queer, trans and gender non-conforming people fought back against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall uprising is just one of many instances where LGBTQ+ people, especially people of colour, have powerfully resisted police brutality and imprisonment.
It is important to remember these origin stories in our continued struggle for queer and trans liberation – as too often prisoners and other criminalised members of our community are forgotten in present-day celebrations of pride. But as the Outside Project reminds us, homeless people – and we would add criminalised people – started our revolution!
Many people assume that because most laws criminalising same-sex activity have been overturned in Britain, LGBTQ+ people no longer face prison as a consequence of being queer or trans. However, many LGBTQ+ people still end up in prison because of discriminatory criminal justice practices and as a result of wider forms of inequality and discrimination that funnel people into prison. For example, we know of cases where young people get kicked out of their home for being queer, and once on the street turn to criminalised economies like drug trade or sex work for survival, and then get arrested.
Once in prison, LGBTQ+ people are often subject to increased isolation, harassment and violence. This is why the Bent Bars Project was formed in 2009 - to specifically support LGBTQ+ prisoners and to build stronger community connections across prison walls.
The Bent Bars Project is a letter-writing, penpal project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer (LGBTQ+) prisoners in Britain. We also support prisoners who are questioning or exploring their gender or sexual identities (e.g. if someone thinks they might be LGBTQ+ but aren’t sure).
We match LGBTQ+ people inside prison with LGBTQ+ penpals outside of prison in order to provide mutual support and friendship. We also produce a newsletter written for and by LGBTQ+ prisoners, which contains letters, artwork, stories and poems written by prisoners. Over the 12 years that the project has been running, we’ve been in contact with more than 800 LGBTQ+ prisoners, who have shared their stories and experiences and been part of the penpal scheme.
We know that life inside prison for LGBTQ+ people can pose specific difficulties and hardships that are related to gender identity and sexuality. Whether it is questions around ‘coming out’, finding one’s way through intimate or sexual relationships, denial of healthcare or facing harassment and bullying, it can be hard to know how to deal with these things. We also know that LGBTQ+ concerns still often remain hidden or overlooked and support can be limited (both inside and outside prison).
To address some of these issues, we recently teamed up with the Prisoners’ Advice Service to produce two “Know your Rights Toolkits” for LGBTQ+ prisoners.
A Prisoner’s Guide to Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights
A Prisoner’s Guide to Trans Rights
These toolkits were designed especially to help LGBT+ prisoners in England & Wales better understand their legal and human rights when in prison. They also provide general information and advice around how to deal with some common issues that LGBTQ+ prisoners face.
We also recently produced some information sheets to raise awareness about the issues trans people face in prison. At Bent Bars, we have been increasingly concerned about misrepresentations of trans prisoners in the media, which we feel have been reinforcing harmful stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes towards trans prisoners specifically, but also trans and gender non-conforming people in general.
So we created three resource sheets to provide information and context, to help people better understand the experiences of trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people in prison.
· Trans Prisoners Info Sheet 1: Key Issues faced by trans and gender non-conforming people in prison
· Trans Prisoners Info Sheet 2: Frequently Asked Questions
· Trans Prisoners Info Sheet 3: Solidarity / Things you can Do
As many of us join in Pride Month activities and celebrations this year, we hope that this will be an opportunity to pay greater attention to all those in our community whose freedom has not yet been won. This means turning attention to the struggles of LGBTQ+ people behind bars, as well as all those who face connected forms of oppression, whether that be poverty, addiction, mental health crisis, homelessness, racism, immigration status or disability discrimination.
For us Pride is not just about who we are, but also what kind of communities we build. We seek to build communities that turn walls into bridges, separation into connection and abandonment into love and solidarity.
If you would like to learn more about the Bent Bars Project or would like to get involved, please visit our website.
We have adopted the Anti Racism Rider as an important statement of intent and will work with colleagues from across the industry to implement this. As a working company, we have made a commitment over the next 2 years to meet the baseline actions of the rider.
This commitment is in addition to our current Anti-Racism Consultancy as we move towards being an anti-racist organisation.
Working on an all-female production is such an exciting and rewarding journey, yet it comes with its challenges too.
When I was approached by Clean Break to produce Sweatbox from a theatre production to short film I was truly honoured: I’ve been a fan of their work for some time and love what they do with women through the criminal justice system. They told me about their policy of only working with women, so I set about bringing together a crew that would be very different from the ones I was used to.
Although I had worked with predominantly female crews before, there are always obstacles you face when crewing up all-female. Especially roles such as Gaffers and Electricians, which are unfortunately looked upon within our industry to be “male roles”.
It’s not because women are not able to do the job or don’t have the skill set, in fact it’s far from it! There are a lot of very skilled and talented women that can fill any role. However, we tend to either work within our comfort zone of those we’ve worked with before or go on recommendations, especially when it comes to commercials. This makes it very difficult to break into the industry. This, added with the prejudice people have over male and female roles in crews means that it is especially hard for women.
The number of women working in the film industry reached a historic high in 2019, but men still outnumber women four to one in key roles.
In the UK we have some of the best creative women across all roles in the film industry yet time after time we lose out on jobs to men.
In my career as a producer in the advertising industry I’ve seen it happen time after time where a female director will be put forward to pitch on a job against two others who are male, and you can almost bet your life it won’t go in her favour. Even brands that are targeted specifically at women where it would benefit from a female director and her insight get awarded to male directors. It’s ludicrous and doesn’t make sense or feel fair.
As a woman, you have to work twice as hard in this industry if you really want to break through, and it’s even harder for a woman of colour.
You still unfortunately have your old school ‘boys club’ mentality within lots of departments. As a rule on every production I work on, I ask all the Heads of Department to make their team as gender equal as possible. As you can imagine it’s always an uncomfortable conversation with those departments that are predominantly male and time after time, I hear the same ‘excuses’. The latest one is “we’re all in the same bubble, so we can’t really let anyone else join us or change the crew”.
With the freedom of working on a short film and with the push from Clean Break, I was able to bring together an exceptional, diverse all-female crew.
The crew was a mixture of women I’ve worked with previously, recommendations and those that responded from shout outs on social media groups. It wasn’t plain sailing as most women for many roles were already pencilled on jobs (which is fantastic). I had to dig a bit deeper, but we got there and I’m glad we did and pushed for a team with diverse experience and from all corners of the industry.
The shoot went so well, the atmosphere on set was so much calmer than previous jobs of mixed crews and nothing seemed to be a problem. Every woman just got on with her job and that’s how it should be across the board. Problems had solutions and everyone just mucked in.
Film shorts bring that as everyone is there because they care about the project and that’s when you get to make magic. We all especially cared about Sweatbox, the stories it was telling and the people who were telling it. It was such a privilege to work with Clean Break on this film and make a beautiful piece that we hope you all enjoy.
Image: Clancie Brennan on the shoot for Sweatbox. Photographer: Olivia Chancellor
Content warning: strong language, sexual violence and rape.
In writing Blis-ta, Sonya Hale drew from her own experience of her life on the streets to create the story of Kat and Cherry, two young women on an adventure for survival.
This week’s blog comes from National Ugly Mugs. National Ugly Mugs is an organisation working UK-wide to prevent violence and offer victim support for people in adult industries. They offered us this blog as a response to our release of Blis-ta; to add to the conversation and the depiction of sex work in the play. At Clean Break we place a high value on lived experience and sharing the often marginalised stories of women. The writer, Grace in the the street and homeless sex worker lead at NUM. She is an Outreach Worker with lived experience and in the following blog has shared her experiences of street sex work and the need for women to tell their own stories.
Waking Up and Surviving Everyday: Reflections from a NUM Outreach Worker
I am told I am everything, but I am not. I am told I am vulnerable, a victim and that I am raped. I am told I am a sex worker, a prostitute, a working girl and a whore. Nobody thinks to ask, what do I think? How do I feel? As I stood cold waiting for a client, I didn’t think of the political sphere I found myself in, nor did I know the ideological debates that were going on over my very existence. No, I was just trying to survive.
Sex workers are spoken over, spoken for, and told we are the voiceless. We are not voiceless, we are simply unheard and ignored. We shout in the streets, but renounced by our peers as our unpalatable language and experiences are uncomfortable to hear, because it is easier for society for us to be unseen; we are the women you joke about and the victims of the murders you read about on your daily commute.
We say nothing about us, without us, but when it comes to sex workers, we find it easier to see them as vulnerable victims who are simply caught up in the spirals of addiction, abuse, homelessness and need rescuing. Instead, I see incredibly strong and resilient women, who wake up and survive every day. I see women who can and do speak for themselves, but are knocked back by those around them. I see people and services exclude us, and privileged women speak over us.
We must recognise the marginalisation of sex workers and listen to their voices and experiences. This is exactly what I do at National Ugly Mugs. In my role, I work with homeless and street based sex workers to empower them to report violent clients directly to us and break down the barriers, as well as offering support, food vouchers and community. Instead of sitting around the table to ask what can be done to improve services for homeless sex workers, I ensure that we ask them directly.
The experts on sex work are sex workers themselves. Sex workers say that criminalisation of any form doesn’t work, we say that it puts us at greater risk, forces us to work in riskier areas to avoid the police and leaves us with clients willing to break the law. Violence against sex workers isn’t just driven by misogyny or violent clients, but by the state. We are oppressed, excluded and victims of police violence, excluded from housing and refused equal access to healthcare.
Homeless and street based sex workers are often facing multiple disadvantages but sadly, despite being the people who need higher concentration of resources, they are often refused or face high levels of discrimination and stigma. I listen to sex workers refused housing, barred from domestic violence services, and drug using sex workers denied mental health support. We are forced to survive within our own communities because society has forced us to.
Sex work is political, but whilst we remember the ideological debates that are going on, we must not forget the sex workers who are surviving every day. I did not care about criminalisation or feminism, I cared about getting through the day. We must not do unto them, but with them and for them. I hope to work with more organisations that have contact with sex workers to improve safety for all sex workers.
National Ugly Mugs (NUM) is a UK-wide violence prevention and victim support charity for people in adult industries. They run a national reporting and alerting system, host screening tools, provide direct support to sex workers through their case work team, comprised of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and sex industry experts. They have mental health resources and continue to develop and deliver services and engage in advocacy by, with and for sex industry workers. They aim to end all forms of violence against sex workers and eliminate the conditions that lead to survival sex.
For more about NUM and how to support them please visit www.uglymugs.org
The experience of working on Sweatbox was one that I will forever be grateful for.
Going back to the audition stage in 2019, when it was for a tour which would span over a period of a year. I could never have foreseen that we would get to a point where it would be shot into a film and made permanent for people to see.
When I read the script for the audition, I was immediately impressed with the way it was written by Chloë Moss and the fact that it would be performed in a prison van, hence the name Sweatbox. I was mostly struck with empathy for the characters, especially Nina, whom I play. I felt I wanted to tell her story and that I would bring her to life in a way where the audience would be able to see her through the same eyes as myself.
She is strong yet vulnerable, fractured and has been through a system that does not forgive women or give women many chances.
As a team, we were very thorough with our research of the prison system and I was grateful for the insight gained through this research.
As a theatre piece the show runs for 15 minutes, or just under, and the audience come into the prison van to see the show with all the characters in their individual cells. It can be claustrophobic for both cast and audience members, but this makes the experience more intense.
The capacity for audience members was 12 each at a time, so we performed the show six times a day with breaks in between each one to allow people to see it.
On tour we went to Universities, prisons, festivals, and theatres which provided for a mix of audiences.
It was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting at the end of performance days to go through six shows. But it was also very gratifying to know we were raising awareness for an issue that most of society had no idea about.
The feedback from audience members was always the same, which ranged from shock, to sympathy for the characters and raised questions as to whether this was really the way the prison system is run in the UK.
Fast forward to March 2020, when the pandemic hit and it was announced that the UK should go into lockdown, which in turn put a stop to our tour and brought everything to a standstill. As we hugged one another (Producer Dezh, cast members Posy, Jade, Fran and myself) at Liverpool Street station and said our good byes, I think we all tried to stay positive for the future but we were definitely in shock about what this meant. "Will we be able to do this show again and if so, when?" were some of the questions on our minds. However, for now it was time to say good bye to Sweatbox the theatre piece and head into an unknown future.
Around July 2020, there was some hope in the future about a possibility of shooting Sweatbox and making it into a film to reach an even wider audience. Just imagine where this can be seen. It was going to be BIG!
I was delighted that Clean Break worked hard to make this happen and was even more in awe that they could secure an all-female film crew, working with Quiet Storm Productions. The film was shot on location at the Clean Break building in Kentish Town.
The set was built into the studio with the last scene taking place inside the van. This was very interesting as it was entirely different to the theatre experience. The filming took place over two very long days.
The shooting of the film was different to the theatre in the fact that the scenes were shot in different orders, so my character Nina’s scenes were shot first with me inside my make shift cell on set, while the other two actors read their lines from outside the set to provide for real reaction from my character, vice versa for the other actors as well.
This meant that we had to be careful about things like continuation to make sure that if we took breaks for any reason, we had to be sure that the make-up was the same as it was before the break. All in all, the experience of both the film and theatre production of Sweatbox is one that I will always cherish and be grateful for as it provided an opportunity to raise awareness of an issue that is very important for women who are in the judicial system.
The due care given by the production team of Sweatbox and Clean Break is another thing that I feel so fortunate for. There was space provided for the actors to share anything that we might be having difficulties with regarding the production at all stages of the theatre piece as well as the film production.
The Member support team at Clean Break was always on hand to provide emotional and mental support. This meant that we never felt alone in our day-to-day challenges during the shows while on tour and at home as well as during the film production.
Being a Clean Break Member and the experience of working on Sweatbox has helped me with my work in the theatre industry. I am currently in rehearsals for a play at the Bread and Roses theatre which runs from the 25th of May to the 5th of June. This is a new play by Irish writer Darren Donohue, I and the Village, which explores the consequences of long term in confinement in a system designed to be flawed. A story of longing, survival and hope.
I am playing the lead as Keicha, a 38-year-old from Nigeria who has been living in the Direct Provision System in Ireland for 8 years.
This is no mean feat but one that I am most honoured to play as the character is complex in that she has many layers which you see unravel in the play.
It is exciting to be back in a theatre space in a time when audiences have been denied theatre due to the pandemic and as an actor, it is gratifying to be in employment doing what I love. My hope is that this will continue to be a bright future for theatre and that the industry wakes up from a long forced slumber to recover with exciting productions for audiences who have been missing it.
As we start to reopen I am glad that we can experience live theatre and continue to make work online, like Sweatbox. I hope you all enjoy watching it.
We’re looking for a friendly, patient Operations Assistant to create a warm, professional welcome for our Members, staff and freelance artists as they return to our building, and to provide administrative and practical support for the Operations team. Our Members are women with lived experience of the criminal justice system or are at risk of entering it due to drug, alcohol or mental health issues.
This is a temporary 3-5 day a week role to support us while we run elements of our summer season from our building (3 June – 17 July, 6 weeks + training).
You’ll be excellent at communicating with and supporting a wide range of people. Our working practice is trauma-informed, so we’re looking for someone with previous responsibilities in work or community spaces with vulnerable adults. You’ll also be comfortable in your own company, as there will be periods of time when you are by yourself in the reception area.
Based in our reception office but sometimes working around the building helping with health & safety protocols including sanitising surfaces, handling deliveries, sorting out signage and room set-up, you’ll be a natural multi-tasker, confident dealing with a range of admin and practical tasks, and able to organise your own time and priorities effectively.
You don’t need previous experience working in an arts organisation to do this role.
The deadline for this role is 23:59 on Sunday 23 May 2021.
Clean Break celebrates four decades of creating ground-breaking theatre on women’s experience of the criminal justice system with its retrospective exhibition ‘I am a theatre’: 40 years of Clean Break Theatre Company.
Jacqueline Holborough and Jennifer Hicks, Co-Founders of Clean Break: “We were dreaming big in 1979, but in our wildest dreams and furthest travels we could not have envisaged the brilliant organisation that Clean Break has become thanks to the talent, love and sheer determination of so many magnificent women.”
The live exhibition takes place at Swiss Cottage Gallery from 24 June - 31 July 2021, with Covid-secure measures in line with the latest government guidelines. It features:
Alison Frater, Chair of Clean Break: "Since the beginning, Clean Break's advocacy through theatre and Member support has highlighted the policy perversity of imprisoning women - influencing a consensus by successive governments to reduce the rate of incarceration. The announcement of 500 new prison places for women, taking money from much needed community services and the failure to introduce measures to reduce violence against women and girls (yet removing the right to protest) in the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, demonstrates that its work is still very much needed."
The exhibition has been curated by Claire Stone, Heritage Project Manager at Clean Break, and is co-designed by Miriam Nabarro and Liz Whitbread. Miriam Nabarro is a visual artist and scenographer with 25 years’ experience in socially engaged and participatory settings, both locally and internationally. Liz Whitbread is a Member of Clean Break who joined in 2012 and graduated in 2019 from Wimbledon UAL in Theatre Design. Their previous collaboration on a mobile exhibition inspired by the archive toured the UK alongside 2019’s Sweatbox, set inside a prison van, and has been re-imagined as an installation for this exhibition.
This exhibition is made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council. This funding was received to celebrate Clean Break's 40th anniversary year, to document our heritage by: establishing a publicly accessible archive of our work at the Bishopsgate Institute; conducting oral history interviews; creating a digital timeline and exhibitions to share its story.
What made Sonya special as a writer?
So much of what made Sonya the extraordinary writer that she was, was about who she is, which I know might be an obvious thing to say, but it's not always the case that you can make that direct connection between how you meet someone and then how you meet their writing. But her energy, her fun, her dedication to poetry and to words was also how she presented her own self, which was always just a glorious thing. I'm not alone in saying that her loss is hugely about the artist that died, but it's equally about the most extraordinary human being who just touched so many lives with real joy, kindness and boldness. All of those things are definitely reflected in what we have of her as an artist also.
Can you tell us a little about her evolution as an artist and how, when and why she was offered a full commission?
So, a lot of what I know is second hand, because I wasn't at Clean Break at the time. As the story goes, from the outset Sonya was someone who blew people away in both her acting and writing courses she was taking at Clean Break. Lucy Morrison, who was looking after the artistic programme at the time, took Sonya on for a full commission. She wrote a short play for Clean Break in 2013 called Hours to Midnight about a woman who had just left prison and the very immediate pressures, particularly on someone struggling with addiction problems, and performed in Meal Ticket at Latitude Festival in 2014.
Was it unusual at a time for a Member to be commissioned in that way?
It definitely was unusual. It's very much central to what we're trying to do at Clean Break at the moment, in terms of ensuring that our Members voices are at the heart of everything that we do. But at the time, she was the only Member on commission to the company.
How did Sonya's past influence her as a writer?
I mean, it's a bit obvious to say thematically…it's all there in the play, two girls living on the streets and it's about dependency on substances and about sex work. But it is something deeper than the themes. It's a more unedited approach than you might get from someone who has experienced it more intellectually or in a second-hand way. There's just no apology in Sonya's truth and the fact is that when we talk about unheard stories, I think it's become a kind of a byword in the industry, but through her lens, it's every nuance of it that is unheard. The whole thing is so fresh, and, you know, that was who she was. It's hard to think that she would have brought that freshness without what she lived as well.
Can you hear Sonya’s voice when you listen to the play?
I had this really spooky experience when we were recording the play at the National Theatre (who gifted us time and space right in the middle of the lockdown to support Sonya). We knew that Sonya had left the hospital for the last time and there was a lot of emotion around the whole process. I felt almost stupid that I hadn't felt it before, but I think it was something about Ria and her interpretation. In the character of Cherry, there's so much of Sonya that's just completely vivid. Ria, with her accent was the perfect embodiment, and they both hold a kind of playfulness that's really big.
Blis-ta was originally commissioned a number of years ago. How has the play evolved over time?
Well, it was one of those commissions that just took a very long time. And there were loads of reasons for that. Sonya was at a very early stage of her development as an artist when it was commissioned, and she was also doing lots of other creative work, but she was also battling with her health throughout that period. But it took what it took, and I know she loved it in the end.
We performed it live as a staged reading at The Bunker in 2019 as part of our 40th anniversary celebrations. It might have been that that was its life span, and it was what it was, but after that it continued to evolve in parallel with her growth and who she was and where she was going and what that meant and how her mind changed along the way.
The other thing about Sonya is that she had so much to say, her lyricism and her connection to poetry was unbelievable and the flow would sometimes just come at this mad rate. In the introduction to Blis-ta, Lucy Kirkwood mentions that Sonya once sent her a version of the play that was something like eight hours long and I had a 10 hour play at one point and I just loved the fact that she just couldn't stop which was a brilliant thing, we're so lucky that we got some of that flow.
Was Sonya involved in the decision for Blis-ta to be an audio drama?
Yes, she was. It wasn't the first choice; we didn't leave The Bunker saying it’s not a stage play let's make it into an audio one. We were talking to the Arcola about putting it on there and there were various different conversations. But then Sonya got in touch late last August and said I haven't got long to live so hurry up and do something! It was a tough challenge not least because we were in a pandemic, but we came up with two versions of how we could do it in that timeframe with the restrictions that were in place and we offered her those two. One was to be that we would rehearse the play and stage it and then film the staging and the second was to edit it and make it into an audio play. When I handed her the two options, she pounced on the radio version! She could hear it, I guess, and we were lucky that it didn’t take much to make it right for audio and that was largely because of her lyricism and because her words were so evocative.
To be responsible for that voice, how did you go about casting Ria and Ambreen?
Ambreen was attached to the project for a long time. Amongst the ways Sonya liked to work was to hear it, so we facilitated that on many occasions. Ambreen and Sonya had loads in common, Ambreen is a writer too, they respected each other as artists and they developed a gorgeous friendship so, in a way, we were never going to do it without Ambreen. Ria had also been involved in it from the early stages and I remember calling Sonya, who was in hospital by that time, and I suggested Ria and she said “yes, yes, yes” so it was a done deal! The pair of them are so brilliant, we were very lucky to have them.
Did you have to change the way that you approached your preparation and planning for directing the piece?
I've never directed a radio play before, so I got some help and advice from a brilliant radio director called Jessica Dromgoole and a brilliant woman called Abigail Gonda, who kindly gave me loads of Audible recordings to have a listen to, to get a clear idea about what I liked.
It wasn't until I was making it in the booth, that I realised - yes there's some technical things that are different that are easily resolved but in fact there isn't that big a difference between the processes it's about working with those actors to embody the text and to get the truth from it. And we just had a great laugh. It was one of those mad things where we knew how important it was, we knew where Sonya was through those days and just how real that was, but we were kind of with her in those ways because of the words and we really laughed for the whole of the recording in a way I hope celebrated her through that time as well.
What could you achieve with an audio drama that you might not have been able to achieve with a live theatre piece?
We are really excited about this venture for all of the obvious reasons, for how much we love the play, how much we love Sonya, how important we believe this story is, but it's also another digital venture for us. One of the big things that’s happened to us in the past 18 months is that we've sped up our digital ambitions in a major way. We have ensured that all of our Members have MiFi and tablets and the possibility to access what is our online engagement programme and we have made a film which is also going to be released very soon. We have developed some major relationships with partners to create really dynamic events and this is significant as well in that journey where we are hoping to continue to create work in the audio sphere.
Do you think this allowed you to consider accessibility and reaching new audiences?
Whilst we've really missed live performance and being with our audiences in theatres and sharing our work, one of the exciting things about lockdown is that we have developed and created and extended a new audience through our work with our academic partners, legal partners, and women sector partners. The exciting thing about that is, of course we are always interested in making new friends, but also that some of that has been international and the potential of that reach is really exciting and emboldening for us and you know it's all about access and that is one of the big wins of this. Someone from Spain can see your work in London but also hopefully someone who couldn't have afforded it can access work and there were also elements around physical and visual disability that we hope will make this piece an extension of our work and reach more people.
What are your aspirations for this piece, for Sonya’s legacy and the audio drama in Clean Break’s repertoire?
We want as many people as possible to hear this and that's massively connected to everything we do. Sonya was a Member of Clean Break and she in so many ways summed up the best of that, she was an incredible friend to so many of her peer Members, she was a shining light for all of us in the amount and the quality of the work she achieved, and she was just a woman that we should hold high for everything that she did in her life and the transformation that she realised in herself and the generosity that she dug into to share it with us. So, the more people that hear this the better.
We want to shout loud and proud about Sonya as an artist. We are working with Synergy and Outside Edge to create a moment where we have a live event in the autumn to celebrate her life as an artist. All of that leans into her phenomenal legacy.
In terms of digital…watch this space! Clean Break is going to continue with podcasts, with more creative audio outputs. I'm a convert, so I would love to be back in the booth!
Listen to Blis-ta, with an introduction from Lucy Kirkwood on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts from 18 May 2021.
Book now for Women's homelessness: the issues, the solutions and the art, a panel event on 19 May which will focus on the experience of women and hidden homelessness.
We’re delighted to be sharing Blis-ta with you for free. If you enjoy our work, please consider becoming a Friend of Clean Break.
With your support, we can help women build confidence, resilience and wellbeing through workshops and projects at our studios in London, in prisons and in the community.
We’re looking for a friendly, positive and self-motivated communications professional, who really understands the unique importance of Clean Break’s work and has a passion and drive to share this with our audiences.
You’ll be a creative and strategic thinker, with an eye for detail and design, an understanding of the digital landscape, enjoy working as part of a close-knit team, and be confident about creating and delivering imaginative campaigns to support the diverse breadth of Clean Break’s work on stage, in the community and in prison.
This role works closely with all members of staff - in particular the Development and Artistic teams – and reports to the Head of Development & Communications. As Clean Break works in partnership on many of its projects and productions, it is key for this role to be able to communicate effectively and manage complex relationships and competing priorities.
The deadline for this role is 5pm on Tuesday 1 June 2021.
We are now joining Women in Prison's campaign #StopThe500 to take a stand against the places.
The government plans fly in the face of their own strategy which says that most women in prison do not need to be there.
We know that there is another way, one that the Government knows works. We can invest in community-based services that support women to tackle the issues that sweep them into crime in the first place, like domestic abuse and poverty.
Together, we can #StopThe500 and ensure the Government does what's right for women, their children and our communities.
You too can add your voice to #StopThe500 new prison places for women.
JOIN THE CAMPAIGN
After a year of online engagement, we are thrilled to announce a season of live and digital events celebrating and reconnecting our community of Members, artists and audiences. From May, you'll have the opportunity to experience our plays through audio and film, an exhibition and digital timeline sharing our legacy, and live theatre in person
Blis-ta by Sonya Hale
Audio drama available from 18 May, on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.
Kat and Cherry meet on the streets. Kat is wily, funny, and fierce; Cherry is a lost dreamer. Blis-ta is the story of their adventures to survive as homeless girls and the transformative power of friendship.
Written by the late Sonya Hale, a Clean Break Member, this audio drama is a wild tale of resilience, hidden homelessness, the lengths women go to for survival. Blis-ta is directed by Róisín McBrinn, Joint Artistic Director for Clean Break, performed by Ambreen Razia and Ria Zmitrowicz, sound design by Helen Skiera and dramaturgy by Gillian Greer, with an introduction by Clean Break Patron, Lucy Kirkwood.
Book now for our panel event Women's homelessness: the issues, the solutions and the art
Find out more.
Sweatbox by Chloë Moss
Film streaming for free on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram from 8 June.
Three women sit in a prison van outside HMP Bronzefield, each caught up in their own worlds as they anticipate what’s next. Sweatbox offers a glimpse into the experience of women as they are pulled away from their lives and transported to prison.
Chloë Moss’s highly original Clean Break play has toured the UK in a prison van since its premiere at the Latitude Festival in 2015. It is transformed into an electric adaptation for the screen, performed by Clean Break Members Funke Adeleke, Jade Small and Posy Sterling with Sarah Jane Dent as the Prison Officer.
Book now for our online screening and panel discussion.
Find out more.
I am a theatre
at Swiss Cottage Gallery, 24 June – 31 July.
This exhibition celebrates Clean Break's 40-year history as a radical theatre company, documenting its heritage through previously unseen archival material and specially commissioned interviews and installations.
The 40-year retrospective will be co-designed by Miriam Nabarro and Liz Whitbread, a designer and Member of Clean Break. It will take place at Swiss Cottage Gallery in Camden—Clean Break’s home borough since the 1980s.
Alongside the exhibition, we will be launching a digital timeline on our website and an events programme of digital and live activity including a screening of the 1984 Channel 4 production of Clean Break co-founder Jacqueline Holborough’s play, Killers.
Booking will open on Wednesday 12 May.
Find out more.
Through This Mist
at Clean Break, limited run from 15 – 17 July.
As the world was in the grip of loss and loneliness last summer, Clean Break commissioned a group of leading female artists and Clean Break Members through its 2 Metres Apart project, bringing them together to take solace in collaboration and creativity. Through This Mist shares some of the outcomes of those unions and the beginning of a return to live performance.
Performed outside in Clean Break’s garden, this live performance features work created collaboratively by: Ayesha Antoine and Yvonne Wickham, Katherine Chandler and Nicole Hall, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and TerriAnn Oudjar, and Chloë Moss and Sarah-Jane Dent. It also features a song by Eddy Emenike and a short film by Deborah Bruce and Sarah Cowan, screened inside as part of this event.
Spaces are limited for the performance.
Voices from Prison
Across women's prisons.
Over the last year women in prison have become more invisible than ever. During lockdown women in prison have been locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day with visitation and education programmes suspended.
Voices from Prison is a creative writing project inviting women from all 12 women’s prisons to create work in this moment, amplify their words and let their experiences be heard.
Inspired by a project of the same name from 1987 uncovered in our archive, a panel will be selecting pieces to be published and performed by a cast of actors and Member artists at an online event and on all our channels.
In May, we will be launching the second year of the Helen Pringle Award, an annual award in memory of our dearest friend and colleague, Helen Pringle, who died four years ago, after living with cancer for a number of years. Each year the award offers a £1,000 bursary to support a Member in her Further /Higher Education studies and a mentorship by one of Clean Break’s artistic community.
Find out more.
Members Programme and Women’s Centres
Our Members Programme will continue online over the summer. Our artists will be providing a foundation of learning and skills in theatre performance, creativity and wellbeing as well as one-off masterclasses and events.
We will also be working with our partners at Advance Minerva and Women in Prison to provide workshops to women accessing Women’s Centres over London.
Barbara was an extraordinary woman whose legacy will live on in the organisations she championed, such as Clean Break and the International Women’s Forum which she co-founded, and in the women she mentored and inspired throughout her life. I was lucky enough to be one of these women and it is a great pleasure to share something of Barbara’s life history and why Clean Break was so close to her heart.
Barbara grew up in Cornwall in a farming family. By her own account, she didn’t have an easy childhood although her mother kindled her early interest in music, which became a lifelong passion. Her promising education was cut short at 16 in order to support her family as a typist when the family farm went bankrupt. She clearly had a strong sense of adventure and self-belief because at 21 she left Cornwall for London, working briefly on a magazine and then taking a women’s adult education course at Hillcroft College, where Clean Break used to work in partnership. Following three years in Tanganyika working for a copper mine – the first of many all-male environments where she found herself – Barbara returned to London to pursue a career in politics and the media. She became an Islington Councillor but decided against standing as an MP when she realised that she would have to compromise on her own principles – in this case, her support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Instead she joined the Civil Service as a press officer and went on to work with Labour PM Harold Wilson, unusually staying on to serve under Ted Heath when the Conservative Party came into power, drafting speeches and accompanying him on major political visits. Later in her career she was controller of information services at the Independent Broadcasting Authority, helped to set up breakfast television and was a non-executive director at Westcountry Television.
Throughout Barbara’s life she championed women’s rights: creating networks of women across national and sectarian divides, playing a leading role in the 300 group to secure the election of more female MPs, and pursuing equal pay for women. These activities and her evident self-belief meant she fast became a powerful and compelling role model for other women. This continued right through to her final decade when she came out as a lesbian and wrote and published her memoirs Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant.
Around this time, Barbara joined us in the Clean Break building to celebrate her 90th birthday. In typical Clean Break style, we had tea and cakes with company Members and staff. She regaled us all with stories of her life and offered advice and encouragement on how we, too, could seize opportunities and live life to the full. It was a joyful occasion peppered with jokes and anecdotes. We all absorbed some of Barbara’s wisdom that day and were inspired by her infectious sense of self-belief and can do attitude.
This is what I loved about Barbara - she made you feel like anything is possible and that no barrier is too big to overcome. I first met her when I joined Clean Break in the late 1990s when we were about to start renovating our new home in Patshull Road, Kentish Town. She had joined the company in the early 1990s as one of a stellar group of Patrons, whom then Director Alex Ford had brought on board to help fundraise for and find our new base. Instrumental in the evolution of Patshull Road, I suspect she was also key to growing the company’s ambition and stretching our horizons way beyond the wildest dreams of the company’s founders Jacqueline Holborough and Jenny Hicks.
The company’s development gave Barbara enormous pleasure; she sent me an email in 2016, “When I remember my first days with Clean Break – a rehearsal space not much bigger than a cupboard I marvel at how far we have come.” But although the building came to embody much of the company’s ambitions, it was the women we worked with and their journeys that connected Clean Break to Barbara.
I last saw Barbara, pre-pandemic, at the Reform Club together with her longstanding partner Margaret Hyde – another good friend and supporter of Clean Break. As usual, she introduced me to many people over lunch – she was always a great connector – and we then had a tour of this venerable old institution. It was founded with radical beginnings and, in 1981, became the first of the traditional gentleman’s clubs to allow women to become members on equal terms. Barbara took us up to the top of the building and into a small art gallery. Here she proudly shared some of her own paintings displayed amongst the artworks – new pieces from weekly art classes that she had taken up in recent years. This was typical Barbara – telling us that you are never too old to learn something new and to share your creativity with friends.
It goes without saying that Barbara will be much missed by us all. Her spirit and love of life and ambition for women will be an enduring legacy.
Lucy Perman, Former Chief Executive Clean Break