The Doors May Be Closed But We Are Still Here

Closing our building in Kentish Town last week was a very difficult thing to do. It is a creative space for many women theatre artists, our team’s base and, most importantly, a vital community for our Members, (women with experience of the criminal justice system and women living on its fringes). A lot of our Members face harsh challenges in their daily lives, further compounded by COVID-19 and we know that Clean Break offers a safe, productive, non-judgemental space where women can grow and manifest the change they want to see in their lives.

We are working hard to ensure that our community remains vital. Through regular telephone check-ins with our Members and increasing our hardship fund, as well as working more closely with our women’s centre partners in London and further afield across England, we are attempting to emulate something of the creative port in the storm for women who have been to prison or who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system. As such we have designed a new project for women in prisons many of whom are currently in their cells for 23 hours a day. Write 2 Connect, in partnership with Its Not Your Birthday But will see letters of hope and solidarity reaching many hundreds of women in prisons and we will be sharing ways of how you too can take part in making that connection possible.

Our other main focus at this time is the long-term sustainability of Clean Break so when we reopen our building, we are resilient enough to carry the load of the new, unpredictable, normal we find ourselves in. We thank our staff and Trustees for their support and shared commitment to this.

Our next season of engagement with Members begins on 20th April. We have reimagined this formerly studio-based offer and will now be offering courses three days a week online. This will be accessible to our entire Membership (circa 400 women) and to women accessing the network of women’s centres nationally (a benefit of the digital space) in acknowledgement that this is the time to reach out and try to combat the isolation women may be feeling. We are problem solving to help those Members who are not online or who depend on public spaces like libraries to use the internet, to lessen the barriers to engagement.  We will also be creating a weekly interactive space for our Members to connect, try out ideas and laugh together, and our much-needed therapy sessions provided by Holloway United Therapies will also continue online or on the telephone.

We believe that there is a pressing need to create connections between us as we navigate the world we find ourselves in. Led by our commitment to the alchemy between artists and our Members, we are pleased to announce our new initiative, 2 Metres Apart, the joint commissioning of ten writers from our artist community and ten of our Member artists. We will pair these 20 artists and task them with exploring what collaboration looks like. They could choose to co-write together, to each respond to a selected stimulus, for one artist to write for their partner to perform. We have chosen not to focus on outcomes but to bring people together and maintain our commitment to nurture, employ and extend artists and our Members.

We’d like to express our solidarity with all our friends and partners in theatres across the country who have had to close their doors to audiences.  We look forward to doors reopening and theatres once again being spaces of celebration, provocation and connectivity. The message from us is we are still here (especially for our Members) and we are leading with choices and commitments to return with open arms as soon as it is possible.

We hope you are all safe during this period and that there is some good that comes out of this time. We for one are striving to imagine and work towards a kinder fairer future where the women we work with are supported to fulfil their potential in a world free from criminalisation.

In hope,

Erin, Anna and Róisín



A Statement on Covid-19

In light of the latest Government advice on Covid-19, and to prioritise the wellbeing of all the women we work with, Clean Break has decided to temporarily suspend our programme of delivery and to close our building in Kentish Town. The length of closure is currently unknown and we will constantly review this in line with the latest Government advice.

Our staff team are working from home as of today and we are innovating ways in which to continue providing support to our Members whilst maintaining social distancing. We are talking to our partners, and our artists / freelancers, who are a significant part of our community, about how we can work together during this challenging time.

Please stay safe, look after yourself and each other, and keep an eye on our social media and newsletters for further updates.

Click here to sign up to our newsletter 

Clean Break

Clean Break Search for New Chair of Trustees

We are searching for an exceptional woman to serve as Chair of our Board of Trustees, as current Chair Kim Evans OBE steps down at the end of her tenure later this year.

Róisín McBrinn, Joint Artistic Director commented:
“We wholeheartedly thank Kim Evans for being a phenomenal chair for the past seven years. Clean Break has gone through huge and exciting changes over the past few years and Kim has been exceptionally supportive, insightful and dedicated. We will miss her. We look forward to finding a pioneering woman leader as our new chair who holds our commitment to ground-breaking theatre and changing women’s lives close to her heart and work.”

Our board is currently made up of twelve women with varied professional and personal experience from across theatre and the arts, criminal justice, the women’s sector and private finance.

Tanya Tracey, current Trustee commented:
“Clean Break’s Board is such an empowering group. The best part is being able to share ideas, build relationships with the staff and Members, and see the work Clean Break makes knowing that you’ve been part of making it happen. I’d say the most important thing about being a Trustee is recognising the strengths we all have as women individually to steer the organisation whilst having different backgrounds and expertise.”

The deadline for applications is Monday 6 April, with interviews to be led by a panel of Trustees.

Click here to download the recruitment pack

tags : Opportunities
Typical Girls

Clean Break Announce New Production Typical Girls

We are delighted to announce our autumn 2020 show, a Clean Break, Sheffield Theatres and Soho Theatre co-production, Typical Girls by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, directed by Róisín McBrinn.

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.

Typical Girls will premiere at Sheffield Theatres in November this year before moving to Soho Theatre in December.

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a playwright and screenwriter. Morgan was commissioned by The Globe to write Emilia which became a sell out in summer 2018 and transferred to the West End at the Vaudeville theatre in 2019. It has been optioned as a film and she is in development on this currently. She is also developing a book adaptation for film with Lucky Chap Films and adapting her play The Wasp into a screenplay for Paradise City Films. She is under commission for stage with Headlong, Lyric Hammersmith and Royal Court. For television, Morgan is currently working on a new series called Spitfire Sisters with Fremantle and Dog Rose Productions. She is also adapting a (as yet unannounced) book for Moonage and Gaumont Pictures. She is also developing a new comedy series with Merman.

This production was originally co-commissioned by Clean Break with the Royal Shakespeare Company who also contributed to its early development.

Watch this space for further announcements on Typical Girls - tickets will go on sale shortly.

To find out more information on our current productions click here. 


tags : Productions

Blog: Why is making work about women in the criminal justice system important?

Clean Break aims to use theatre to keep the issues women face in the criminal justice system on the cultural radar. In our four decades on the ground, we know that theatre intervention work that puts women’s lived experience at the centre is important, empowering, and conversation starting. We also know that the real experts on this topic are those with experience of the justice system.

In the lead up to our Young Artists Development Programme cohort performing Inside This Box at Omnibus Theatre and The Arcola we caught up with them to ask - why is making work about women in the criminal justice system important?

These voices / stories are important and valid and necessary to tell. People affected by the criminal justice system are arguably the most marginalised people in the country and their voices are often never heard and misrepresented. In this strange aggressive political era, it’s more important than ever to tell these stories, give them a stage and challenge people’s perspectives in order to promote positive political change. People often die at the hands of the criminal justice system. The more people are heard, the less people suffer at the hands of their aggressors. These stories need to exist outside of incarceration in order to make change & challenge how society treats these people. - Chloë Florence

The theatre industry is very nepotistic and crowded with the voices of people with limited experience, most of whom have never had to do laundry in their life. It's vital that work is produced by people with diverse experiences. – Lu Dennis

Everyone wants a role model right? Like someone that has walked his or her path; someone to empathise with. We have people like Martin Luther King and Obama; Black Panther breaking box office records to prove our skin colour is not going to stop us achieving our goals in this day and age. Women in the CJS also need that kind of confidence in themselves. Someone to show them that sure they have records, priors and maybe mental health that has held them back on their journey. But that’s not all they are and that is very important. Women in these situations need to know they are strong, resilient and loved no matter what label has been pinned on them. – Tia Thompson

Woman in the criminal justice system are amongst the most marginalised and forgotten groups in our society. Making work about them gives them a voice and allows their stories to be told. It shines a light on the difficulties they and their families face as they find their way through a system where everything feels stacked against them. It is important to produce work on the subject to show that the whole system reinforces the continued inequality and sexism of our society. – Lisa Marie Ashworth

There are still so many prejudices/ injustices against people who have been through the criminal justice system. People rarely seem to think how the person themselves might off been affected by that experience. I hope bringing real stories to life, we can bring a sense of understanding and compassion for women who have been effected/ gone through the criminal justice system. Breaking down systematic stereotypes, that have been placed there merely to oppress, I hope when audiences understand more, they themselves will want to help with the change. – Phoebe Douglas

Real change has to come from within. Making work about the criminal justice system by people affected by the criminal justice system, flips the perspective in mainstream culture and challenges status quo. Making work about any marginalised or silenced group by that group means that’s its informed and true to their own experiences and is informed by what they need rather than other peoples assumptions. It puts people at the heart and allows things to change from the inside out. Telling difficult and uncomfortable stories, with and about complex women. - Athena Maria

To get a real look into how important this kind of work is, come and see Clean Break Young Artists perform in Yasmin Joseph ‘s Inside This Box, showing at the Arcola and Omnibus theatres 26 – 29 February, click here to book your tickets.  

tags : Blog
Not Pretty Like The Rainbow

Clean Break announces its first season of 2020

After a standout 2019, we are back with a brilliant new season in 2020!

We have a range of exciting new work coming to you this season, putting Clean Break Members centre stage and exploring the challenging issues facing women in the criminal justice system.

First off, we have Yasmin Joseph’s Inside This Box, inspired by stories of coercion and the choices young women face directed by Stef O’Driscoll and staring the Clean Break Young Artists. Catch it at the Arcola and Omnibus theatres 26 – 29 February.

Written by Clean Break Member Daisy King, Not Pretty Like The Rainbow challenges the ineffectiveness and damage caused by short sentencing. Directed by Anna Herrmann and performed by Clean Break Members, this play is touring criminal justice and academic settings until 31 March 2020.

Staged in a prison van, Sweatbox, Chloë Moss’ intimate play, shines a light on women’s experiences travelling between prisons and courts. Currently touring, it will be at Essex Book Festival on 14 March and Clean Break 28 April.

We also have brilliant training opportunities for those of you working in theatre and criminal justice settings:

Unlocking Potential (19 March) invites participants to learn from Clean Break’s four decades of experience working with women affected by the criminal justice system, sharing expertise on creating safe and transformative women-only spaces.

Over three days, The Lab (30 March – 1 April) provides unique insight into Clean Break’s practice and philosophy, led by Joint Artistic Directors Anna Herrmann and Róisín McBrinn. Working collaboratively with Clean Break Members, it is a unique experience to learn in depth about Clean Break’s specialised approach to theatre and criminal justice.

We are so excited for this season at Clean Break, and we know you won’t want to miss out!

Click here to book tickets to our shows and training days.

Click here to read the full press release.


tags : Productions
clean break opportunities

Volunteer Opportunities at Clean Break!

Passionate about theatre and criminal justice interventions? Have some time to spare? We want you to join our team at Clean Break!

We are seeking volunteers in a range of areas – from research to gardening – to help us out in our Kentish Town base.

Grab your chance to build skills in a welcoming environment and contribute to exciting work that aims to make a positive change in the lives of women with experience of the criminal justice system.

We have opportunities to volunteer right across Clean Break. If you have an expert skill you’d like to share, or even just think you’d make a fun team member, then we have a space for you.

Are you a keen researcher? You could be working on our 40th Anniversary Heritage project, sorting through archival materials and helping staging our exhibition in Autumn 2020.

Research Volunteer Recruitment Pack

Prefer the great outdoors? We’re looking for someone to help with the upkeep of our garden, so it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Gardener Volunteer Recruitment Pack

Want to build your administrative skills across fundraising, marketing and participation support? We’re looking for someone to help our Development Team.

Development and Members Administration Volunteer Recruitment Pack

If you’d like to find out more about volunteering for Clean Break email Samantha McNeil, our Volunteer Coordinator, at samantha.mcneil@cleanbreak.org.uk or call 020 7482 8600.

tags : Opportunities

Clean Break Feature in New Book

We are excited to share the news that Caoimhe McAvinchey’s Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System has been published, and is available to buy now.

This in-depth new book gives an unprecedented look into international theatre work in criminal justice settings, featuring essays and interviews that delve into the political and material conditions that influence this work. These academic pieces are interwoven with extracts from Clean Break’s performance texts, including Inside Bitch (2019) and Killers (1980).

The book also features a study on Clean Break Theatre Company’s productions as collective casework by writer, researcher and previous Clean Break General Manager Molly McPhee, focusing on our 2010 play Charged.

From cabaret to radio plays, theatre to film, the studies this text explores the value of theatre when it is informed and created by those with lived experience of the criminal justice system, when these women are treated as expert witnesses of a system they have directly experienced.

Our team is delighted to be included in this text, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to have the voices of Clean Break’s members recorded, listened to, and documented alongside so many radical and influential theatre organisations working in criminal justice settings.

Click here to purchase your copy 

The Lullaby Project

Clean Break Members to Take Part in The Lullaby Project

We are excited to announce that Clean Break Members will be taking part in The Lullaby Project in 2020.

In our first collaboration with the Irene Taylor Trust and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, this project will combine the best in music expertise, criminal justice intervention, and rehabilitation through the arts.

Participants in the project work with professional artists to write a personal lullaby for their children. They produce a high-quality audio recording which can work as a memento for parents and children, as well as helping to cement the bond between them.

In a safe, non-judgmental, creative environment, participants join together with other young people in similar situations. The process of writing lullabies is a great cathartic tool for parents, helping participants to use their creativity to express their own experiences, explore emotions, and reinforce their self-esteem.

Participants will build something beautiful and which speaks to them and their child on a personal level. Participating in The Lullaby Project is a brilliant opportunity for our members to give a voice to their feelings about parenthood, and find a creative outlet to give them strength, support, and intimacy with their child.

Parents with experience of the criminal justice system from Clean Break and Sounding Out will be performing on Tuesday 3 March, 2.30pm, in Angel. Click here to find out more


2019 at Clean Break - Celebrating our 40th Anniversary year

Our leadership team have come together to celebrate all of Clean Break's achievements in our 40th anniversary year.

What a year 2019 has been! In case you didn’t know, CLEAN BREAK TURNED 40 THIS YEAR and we did all we could to make more noise than ever before, reach more audiences, find ways for our Members to take up more space, use their voices and to make great art that forefronts their lives, while also trying to change the dismal circumstances around women and criminal justice.

We kicked off with Inside Bitch, our co-production at the Royal Court co-conceived by Stacey Gregg and Deborah Pearson and devised with Lucy Edkins, Jen Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar and Jade Small. This was a particularly important production for us, signalling the realisation of our renewed vision to place our Members at the heart of all our work. Then we took to the road with Sweatbox by Chloë Moss which took place in a decommissioned prison van and toured around the country. The van was also the venue for a beautiful installation by artist, Miriam Nabarro, using archival materials as part of our Heritage Project. There will be more chances to catch both in 2020…

We ended the year with our largest ever production, co-producing [BLANK] by Alice Birch with the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Maria Aberg. Beyond multiple rave reviews, we are proud to say that this production alone reached over 14,000 audience members.

We also produced Belong written by Members, River and Carys Wright, directed by Anne Langford and performed by our Young Artists at Arcola Theatre and Lyric, Hammersmith, as well as our first ever collaboration with Cardboard Citizens and performance artist Paula Varjack culminating in an original site-specific performance All the Lights Are On, at our Kentish Town studios. Another opportunity to see our Members take to the stage happened when a group of our Members formed the community cast in Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Merry Wives of Windsor. Two of our Members had their new plays showcased at the Bunker in October; watch this space for these plays’ future lives!

We launched our monologue book, Rebel Voices at Donmar Warehouse in May with a group of 12 amazing actors including our founder, Jacqueline Holborough. This was one of four chances to hear from our Founders across the year – the others included at Shakespeare’s Globe, alongside Southall Black Sisters founders and directors, sharing reflections on women, activism and power since both companies began. And there was Here. There. Then. Now. in September, again at Royal Court, where we were privileged to be joined by nine of our past, current and future writers.

We also ran workshops at HMPs Downview and New Hall, launched training days for emerging artists and theatre makers at our studios and continued delivering workshops at four women’s centres across London. And we were delighted to be part of #FlytheFlag with our talk at Garden Court Chambers with Clean Break Patron and QC Sonali Naik, and Trustee Deborah Coles.

It’s been a special one which has only been possible due to the remarkable support of our partners, funders, Trustees, Patrons, volunteers and our phenomenal staff team who every day demonstrate their belief in theatre and their commitment to social justice. And of course due to all the amazing theatre artists, writers and creatives we have worked with – you are inspiring - and to our Members, who share their strength, vulnerability, ambition and potential every day in the face of adversity.

We want to thank all of you across the board for being part of our year of celebration and for showing us an unparalleled amount of good will and generosity. Our attention now turns to the year ahead. We are stepping into a new decade with an invitation to #ImagineAnotherWay. We believe it is vital in the current times of uncertainty for us all to hold on to hope and use the power of our imaginations to vision the world we want to live in. Please join us in this endeavour and make change possible.

With many warm wishes

Anna, Erin and Róisín.


We’re Asking You to #ImagineAnotherWay

As we bring our 40th year to a close, we asked Clean Break Members to put forward questions to two of our Patrons, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Dame Harriett Walter DBE, reflecting on the past four decades of women, theatre and criminal justice. The result is the below video in which the two discuss the culmination of the systematic failures that lead women to be incarcerated and the effect of theatre on the lives of those who rarely have their stories told.

We have spent 2019 looking back at what the past 40 years have meant for women in the criminal justice system and played a part in bringing the stories of these women to the stage, in a bid to change hearts and minds.

As we prepare for a new decade in a turbulent time for the UK we want to look forward and affirm that change is possible. We want to invite you to reflect, discuss and share how we can move forward and change women’s experience within the criminal justice system. We're asking you to #ImagineAnotherWay.

So for now, we ask that you watch the video and reflect on where we’ve been and what’s to come. We’ll be back in January with a provocation so that we can collectively #ImagineAnotherWay.

Big Give

A Big (Give) Thank You!

A huge thank you to everyone who donated to our Big Give Christmas Challenge 2019 – a very special campaign, in this our 40th anniversary year. Your donations helped us to raise over £30,000 and we could not have done it without your support and encouragement.

The funds raised will help women with lived experience of the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it to find their voice, build their confidence and skills, and transform their lives. Alongside this we will create platforms for their voices to be heard within society through public-facing theatre projects and productions, which directly engage a broad cross section of the public.

"Having a space to hear other women’s voices, such a diverse group of women, has been inspirational. I have never allowed myself to write creatively so having a place to start to learn to express my voice and be encouraged in such a nurturing environment." Clean Break Member

Our work has helped so many women affected by the criminal justice system – they have regained their voice through theatre, writing, and communication. With your incredible support we will bring our program to even more women and amplify their voices.

Thank you.

clean break opportunities

We're Hiring!

We're looking for a Receptionist and Admin Assistant to join our team in Kentish Town!

The Receptionist and Admin Assistant will provide a high level of customer service and support the operation and administration of Clean Break’s systems.

If you would like to join our team click the link below to read the application pack and find out how to apply.

Download the Receptionist & Admin Assistant Recruitment Pack 

tags : Hires

The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2019 has launched!

Ready, set, GIVE!

The Big Give Christmas challenge has launched – DONATE NOW to Clean Break and your donation will be DOUBLED.

We need to raise £30k by 12pm Tuesday 10 December to ensure we can help more women with experience of the criminal justice system find their voice.

Whatever you can give will mean the world to Clean Break and our members. If you donate just £10 – we’ll get £20! If you can spare £50 – we’ll get £100! If you have £500 to donate – we’ll receive an amazing £1000!

For us, your donations mean we can use theatre to help women with lived experience of the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it to find their voice, build their confidence and skills, and transform their lives. Alongside this we will create platforms for their voices to be heard within society through public-facing theatre projects and productions, which directly engage a broad cross section of the public.

Our work has helped so many women affected by the criminal justice system – they have regained their voice through theatre, writing, and communication. With your help we can bring our program to even more women and amplify their voices.

Please donate now and help us reach our Big Give target – and don’t forget to spread the word! Do you know someone who might be interested in our work? Why not give Clean Break a helping hand this Christmas and share our fundraiser with anyone you can!


Remember: the clock is ticking! You have just 7 days to donate to Clean Break, have your donation doubled, and help us smash the Big Give Christmas Challenge!

Clean Break Members

Blog: International End Violence Against Women Day 2019

To mark International End Violence Against Women Day 2019 we asked Clean Break Member Amanda to talk us through her experience in our Advanced Theatre Group, as they tackle the theme of violence against women with Stef O'Driscoll. 

We started out this season discussing what we needed from each other in order to feel safe - we spent a lot of time doing that and some of the words that came up were grace, respect, and confidentiality. Some of us have come from backgrounds where we personally experienced violence and we respect each other's stories and honour the pain that we have individually and collectively experienced as women.

We had one day this season where we devised these deep stories about childhoood trauma, sexual violence, and many of the stories were based on real experiences, however, our director Stef O'Driscoll chose not to use this work for our final sharing. That seems to be the norm when devising though, we create a lot and select the parts that are relevant to what we wanted to show. Instead, we created a piece that is a bit more upbeat - a women's TV channel.

Although some of the pieces are meant to be comical, it's not a joke that we really wanted to empower women and make them feel strong, intelligent and uplifted. It's interesting to be conscious of the fact that so much media out there still does the opposite, whether it's social media, music or television, there is such negative messaging towards women about not accepting and loving oneself and we wanted to create something that did just the opposite. There's ways to do that with heavy stuff and there's ways to do that with light-hearted stuff and we chose the light-hearted way, so there's a lot of music, dancing, and jokes in our show.

Our TV show show is called Herstory - an alternative to History that has stories and content mostly about men. We realised in conversation that it was important to us to bring to light the fact that women have been left out of past narratives such as books, stories, and culture. It might seem like jumping on the bandwagon but it's what Clean Break has been doing for 40 years so it's something deeply rooted in our company culture, you could say we were ahead of the trend. We talk about meditation, sexuality, veganism, the elderly, the environment, menstruation, dating, aging, and poverty as well as stuff that is just for laughs like fake adverts. I think providing a safe place where we can laugh and make others laugh is a way to take a stand against violence in itself.

Amanda, Clean Break Member

Find out more about the Clean Break Members programme here

tags : Blog

Clean Break to take part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2019

You guessed it - Clean Break is taking part in Big Give’s Christmas Challenge!

For one week only, every donation given to us between 12pm Tuesday 3rd December – 12pm Tuesday 10th December will be DOUBLED. 

This year we want to raise £30k – and we need your help.

At Clean Break we have big plans for these donations: we want to deliver empowering theatre and intervention projects for women with lived experience of or at risk of entering the criminal justice system, as well as running workshops in women’s prisons. The money we raise this Christmas will supercharge the impact of our work.

Our work gives women affected by the criminal justice system their voice back. Women who engage with Clean Break’s programs come away feeling more confident, hopeful, and are able to express themselves. They produce vital theatre, and are able to tell their own stories, stories that help their audiences to understand the complex issues faced by women in the criminal justice system, and help to bring communities together.

So every pound you donate, matched by our generous match funders The Reed Foundation UK has the power to give more women a voice, amplify those voices, and bring those them into our theatres and community spaces.

We need your help to reach our target. Remember, whatever you can be generous enough to donate – we’ll get double! And once our brilliant community of supporters have come together and raised £15k, we’ll have smashed our target!

Any amount you can donate will have an amazing impact on our work in 2020.

Keep your eyes peeled on our website and social media on Tuesday 3 December for our Big Give Christmas Challenge launch! 


Blog: Holloway United Therapies share their experience of [BLANK]

This week’s blog comes from Holloway United Therapies who have shared their thoughts on [BLANK] and explain the parallels between the play and the work they carry out with women with experience of the criminal justice system.

Clean Break’s powerful production of [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse perfectly illustrates the need for services such as ours. We’re Holloway United Therapies (HUT), a charity established by members of the former psychotherapy team at HMP Holloway, we provide specialist psychotherapy outside prison walls to women affected by the criminal justice system.

[BLANK] is a series of vignettes encapsulating some of the predicaments that women in the criminal justice system face or have experienced, and that we at HUT encounter in our sessions with our clients. To us, the title of the play suggests the idea of women as nameless statistics within a system, endlessly asked to fill in the blanks on official forms.

The hallmark of Alice Birch’s writing is that she does not shy away from the horror of human interaction, and the reality of cruelty and trauma. When watching [BLANK] for us four scenes stood out for thematic reasons;


When we meet Kate in the opening scene, Arms, she is desperate to communicate her excitement about her new partner, ‘Richard’, whose very name seems more than she can believe or conceivably deserve. She wants to be held in his long arms. She asks her daughter in a later scene, Scar, to confirm that Richard ‘gives good hugs’ but the child is wary. She is used to having to summon up her own defensive weaponry, as her needs have always been subjugated to those of her mother. When someone first comes to therapy, they want to be held symbolically and wonder whether they can trust the support – an authentic containing presence - the therapist is aiming to provide.


In Magnolia, a foster mother sits outside, as she always does, on the last night of a child’s stay, and in sharing a peaceful moment with her foster daughter, she evokes a parallel between her relationship to her charges and that of a gardener to a magnolia tree.

"That’s a magnolia tree ….. It only flowers for one week…. Isn’t that incredible? … You tend to it for a whole year and then it only blooms for a week. … But it’s so so so so beautiful for that week."

Together they are relishing the beauty of the present; but again Birch allows the ugliness to emerge, as the foster mother gives vent to her frustration about the fact that she has tended over time to this child, but that it might be her biological mother, who eventually sees her bloom.

Carrier Bags

In Carrier Bags two young girls are meeting for the first time in their foster home bedroom. Both girls have brought their own ‘stuff,’ in more than one sense. But they do not wish to be affected by the other’s stuff – not even their name. Children whose boundaries have been violated, constantly test them or seek them out in other less positive ways. This is why the boundaries of therapy, known as the therapeutic frame, are so key.


Salt, the final scene is about a woman trying to make amends for her long absence during her daughter’s childhood. Dissociating from the feelings her guilt and pain bring up for her, the mother tries to share in happy memories. But her adult daughter disabuses her of the reality of the idealized seaside outings. Both characters say ‘OK’ to break silences. But for both, OK is a fill-in for loss – loss of what they can find to say, and loss of all that could have been. It’s as if ‘OK’ is short for ‘out of kilter’ as the two women are so misattuned in their recollection and interpretation of their relationship.

Therapy is about working alongside the client to break down defences that hamper development. Some defences seem inappropriate; yet they may be adaptive and essential to survival in a difficult world. We see our clients for up to a year at HUT and once that time is over, we are left, sharing the feelings of the foster mother in Magnolia, with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the growth we have witnessed in our clients will continue to bloom.

You can find out more about HUT's work here. 

[BLANK] runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 30 November click here to book your ticket. 

Image Helen Maybanks 


tags : Blog

Blog: Women in Prison

Following on from their visit to [BLANK] Women in Prison share with us their thoughts on the play and how the themes entwine with their #OPENUP campaign

“It’s a ripple effect isn’t it? We’ve been sentenced but our children have been sentenced with us. It is a struggle.” The preceding words from one woman imprisoned in one of the 12 women’s prisons in England are repeated to us, at Women in Prison, by so many. The experience of motherhood from within prison is often pained with guilt, anxiety and isolation for both the mother and the child left behind on the outside. Nine out of 10 children will be forced to leave their home as a result of their mother’s imprisonment to live with relatives or to go into care. This can have devastating consequences for those children, as well as family bonds which can take a lifetime to repair.

[BLANK] so powerfully showcases this ripple of harm that radiates from the experience of imprisonment, cutting through relationships and severing opportunities to move forward with your life. The play also tells of the complex social circumstances and harmful histories, often rooted within complex family relationships, which chart a course for women to come into contact with the criminal justice system. Childhood abuse and neglect, poverty, domestic violence, mental ill-health, harmful substance use, poverty, inequality are all tightly weaved together to lead you down an inevitable path.

In the UK, we have a chronic overuse of the prison system. Through the decimation of community support, housing, mental health services and refuges, we are now in a position where we, as a society, turn to the police to step in to plug these gaps in services; it is the police who are called in response to someone in mental health crisis or someone who is sleeping on the streets. [BLANK] very clearly demonstrates how all-too-often women feel they have nowhere to turn to – no more room at the domestic violence refuge, too little understanding of post-partum depression, or a family member not equipped to support a daughter’s addiction. Women in Prison has engaged with thousands of women in our prison system who went out and shoplifted just so they could get a roof over their head in prison or so they could escape from a violent partner. Women seek refuge in prison because they have few choices and this comes at great personal risk as imprisonment causes harm to your mental and physical health. Additionally, after prison it will be a greater struggle to find a home or job, your social circumstances and opportunities will have been reduced further.

Women in Prison campaigns to radically reduce the women’s prison population and end the harm caused by prison to women, their families and our communities. Our #OPENUP Manifesto offers 10 solutions to achieve this with investment in community support services and opening up pathways away from criminal justice interventions at its heart.

It is little known that the UK is globally unique in having a network of specialist Women’s Centres that provide support for women affected by the criminal justice system. These Centres provide a community for women to come together to support each other, eat lunch, take part in a crafting workshop, or gardening, meditation, knitting as well as find counselling for childhood trauma, support with addiction, mental ill-health, advocacy to find housing or support with parenting, debt advice, CV writing workshop. These Centres are packed with activities and support in an environment that does not judge and does not punish. They enable women to address the root causes that lead to offending and prevent them from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. But they are also used by the Police to divert women out of the criminal justice system into community support and give Magistrates an alternative to sending individuals to prison. Women’s Centres are proven to reduce offending and enable women to move forward with their lives far more effectively than a prison sentence ever could.

There are around 35 Women’s Centres across the UK, there are many areas of the country that do not have access to this support and the ones that exist need urgent investment to be sustained. Through investment and Government policy that acts on the evidence we have, the very real possibility to achieve something that we can be really proud of and set an international standard in how to reduce the human and financial cost of imprisonment and create healthier, safer communities for all of us. Our vision is for our #OPENUP vision to be delivered so that the [BLANK] of the future is packed with stories of support, opportunities and hope for women and their children.

Claire Cain, Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager at Women in Prison – a national charity that provides support for women affected by the criminal justice system in prison and via women’s centres and campaigns to reduce the women’s prison population. 

[BLANK] runs until 30 November at Donmar Warehouse, click here to book your ticket

Image Helen Maybanks

tags : Blog

Take a First Look at [BLANK] at The Donmar Warehouse

We're delighted to release the first images of [BLANK] our new coproduction with the Donmar Warehouse. 



[BLANK] written by Alice Birch is a heartbreaking new play which reaches across society to explore the impact of the criminal justice system on women and their families.



From 100 unnamed scenes, this theatrical provocation challenges the director Maria Aberg to construct an entirely unique production.


[BLANK] runs until 30 November and tickets from £10-£40 are available now. 

Click here to book your [BLANK] ticket 

Photography by Helen Maybanks 

tags : Productions

Blog: Celebrating a Year of our Young Artists Development Programme

This year we were very proud to pilot our first Young Artists Development Programme. Over nine-months four extremely talented young women embarked on a programme of workshops, co-wrote an original production which was performed at both the Arcola and Hammersmith Lyric Theatres, and have each developed their own shows, covering topics such as mental health and police harassment. With this year’s programme now at an end, we spoke to these amazing and inspiring young women to find out what they have learned after the year and what the future has in store.

How would you describe your journey with Clean Break?

When I needed help, I wasn’t sure if Clean Break was for me. I didn’t think I qualified, deserved it, had enough experience, had too little experience. I didn’t really believe that there was a place that would be able to help because I felt so alone.

The first time I came into the building I cried and Carole gave me tissues. The second time was the same. The third I was so nervous I couldn’t eat, and everyone was so kind to me. Which almost made me cry again. That was two and a bit years ago. It was also in another universe.

Can you tell us about the most special moments of your year on the Young Artists Development Programme?

This year I have co-written and performed in a play, developed a new solo show, been mentored by an inspiring writer and met and had the support of the most incredible group of people I know.

But it goes so much deeper than those practical, visible from the outside things. It actually goes so deep that it’s in the territory of not being able to be expressed in words at all. How do you sum up a year of such growth?

It’s in the laughter. The moments of clarity. The shared struggles. The times you don’t think you can, but you do it anyway. Having your space when you need it. Shared food. Cups of tea. Being able to say your name and look someone in the eye while you say it. Speaking your truth and knowing that people get it.

This year has been the start of me finding my voice. The one I’d squashed, ignored, clipped short. It’s going to be a continued and sometimes difficult journey towards feeling self-expression, not being angry, depressed or self-hating. But now it’s a journey that I’m looking forward to, not scared of. I’ve already taken the first step along the way.

What has been the most important thing you’ve learned after the Young Artists Development Programme?

I guess the most important thing that I've learnt on the young artist development programme is trusting in each other and believing that if you create an environment of true care and respect, people are going to do their best, and their best is more than enough. I learnt new ways of working and relating to each other in the world of theatre, where this environment is really rare to find. Of course, I had to very quickly learn how to write for theatre, what different roles in the production of a piece are and what you call stage left or right. But an even more precious discovery that I made is quite simple actually. Kindness is not a given thing or an innate personal quality, but it’s a practice. Similarly, love is not just a feeling but an action and solidarity or collaboration cannot come about unless there is true respect cutting deep, deep... and why wouldn't we respect each other? The gift of working with the people I did on this show, was a real privilege and I cannot express my gratitude for the commitment that each and every one of us had towards the play, but above all, towards each other.

How have your creative aspirations changed?

My aspirations have developed into a more concrete realisation that I have found my path and direction in life and that from this moment on I am only ever going to be known and defined by my work in theatre and that my past doesn’t matter and all that came before this.

I am now sure as what I am going to do with my life and where I am going. I have gained complete confidence in my skills as a writer but also as a creative. I have something to say and my voice is important and needs to be heard. I am sure that I can create my own work as well as perform in other people’s works.

What do you want audiences to understand through your creative work?

I want to speak my truth and show people how that can be a very powerful tool. I want to build femme solidarity and abolish the prisons. For that we need to open up new understandings of what a post-police, post-prison world might look like – what does transformative justice look like? How do we need to change the ways in which we hold ourselves and others accountable? I think theatre is a powerful too in imagining new futures. This programme enabled me to start to do that.

We would like to extend our thanks to the Co-Op Foundation for their support of the Young Artists Development Programme.

Click here to find more news and blogs from Clean Break. 



tags : Blog

[BLANK] Rehearsal Pictures are Released

We’re delighted to share what’s been happening in the [BLANK] rehearsal room, over the past couple of weeks with the first set of pictures of our cast and creative team.


Rehearsals are taking place at the Donmar Studios, with the largest cast of any Clean Break production. [BLANK] is written by Alice Birch, directed by Maria Aberg and the cast includes; Ayesha Antoine, Shona Babayemi, Sophia Brown, Jackie Clune, Lucy Edkins, Zaris-Angel Hator, Zainab Hasan, Joanna Horton, Thusitha Jayasundera, Petra Letang, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds, Kate O’Flynn, Ashna Rabheru, Jemima Rooper and Taya Tower.



This heart-breaking new play reaches across society to explore the impact of the criminal justice system on women and their families. From 100 unnamed scenes, this theatrical provocation challenges the director Maria Aberg to construct an entirely unique production.


If you’d like to find out more about [BLANK] or book tickets to the production click here.

Sweatbox News Story

Blog: Sweatbox and Prison Transport in 2019

When a prison van drives past us, on our way to work, or on our way back from buying groceries at the supermarket, we think little about the stories of those held within; the people inside become nothing more than hidden cargo, transported to an unknown destination. It’s an experience of invisibility that many of our Members are all too familiar with, their trauma obscured by a series of walls. Yet with Chloë Moss’s Sweatbox these walls are broken down, bringing the hidden stories of arrival, anticipation, fear and resignation to light, forcing audiences to confront the cruelty of our prison system, even before perceived offenders are placed in cells.

In anticipation of the Sweatbox tour hitting Manchester we caught up with Anna Herrmann Joint Artistic Director of Clean Break and Director of Sweatbox and Dezh Zhelyazkova Producer of the play, to find out how the response to Sweatbox in 2019 has differed from it’s first outing in 2015.

Why is it important to bring back Sweatbox?

Anna Herrmann: Prison vans are part of our environment, but only for those who either work in the system or who are caught up in it personally, are they any more than a backdrop to which we live our lives. Sweatbox The Play changes that – providing a unique chance to step inside a decommissioned van and experience what it is like.

In December 2018 new guidelines were put in place which included: the provision of seatbelts in cellular vans, men and women being transported in separate vans and pregnant women being given alternative transport. It has been positive to recognise these small but important steps to improve conditions for prisoners, especially at a time when our prison system is in crisis. However, it is devastating to witness the story of Rachel, one of the characters in the play who has been given a short sentence of six months for a first offence. The Government has acknowledged that short sentences are ineffective, and yet sadly Rachel’s story is still one that is very real and happening on a daily basis. It needs to stop. Women’s centres offer a viable and evidenced alternative to custody for women but are struggling to survive. We need to invest in these options and change the use of prisons in society for the future to benefit everyone.

What has the response been like so far?

We have been thrilled to see audiences come out of the show very moved and provoked to discuss the issues of women affected by the criminal justice system. The feedback from the first half of the tour has included praise for the writing and acting, which engage the audiences with the subject matter, on a deep personal level.

It has been interesting to hear from audiences that the reality of the storylines of the three characters is entirely new to them, and they have previously been unaware of how these experiences affect the women who have them.

Unconventional settings normally add novelty to productions but in the case of Sweatbox the prison van has been described as the 4th character in the play, as it provides for an extremely visceral experience which has resonated with our audiences and left them with food for thought about the destiny of the characters and the bigger picture of the systematic issues within the criminal justice system.

Through the stories of an expectant mother, a first offence, and a woman living with addiction, Sweatbox powerfully explores the varying contexts which contribute to female offending. Emotionally charged at its core, the play prompts us to question how services could have supported each woman and highlights the importance of preventative support for women struggling and at risk of offending.

If you’d like to find out more about Sweatbox click here.

tags : Blog
Clean Break

Clean Break Announce New Training Programme

We are delighted to announce a new programme of training sessions where attendees can learn more about elements of our work including; arts in the criminal justice system, trauma-informed practice, and the Clean Break ethos and methods of working.

Click here to download our training programme brochure 

Our training sessions include:

Safer Spaces - a one-day training course for theatre artists, criminal justice professionals and early career front line workers interested in developing their tool kit for working with young women in the criminal justice system and young women at risk of offending.

Staging Rehabilitation - a Clean Break masterclass in association with Geese Theatre Company. It is for theatre artists and criminal justice professionals interested in the specialised field of arts in the criminal justice system.

Rebel Voices - a monologue workshop for actors who want to explore unconventional characters and get support in their casting preparation.

Rewriting Justice - a one-day training course for theatre artists and emerging playwrights as well as criminal justice professionals with an interest in how to use playwriting with women in prisons and in community settings.

Unlocking Potential - a one-day training course for theatre artists, and early career group work facilitators interested in the art of creating safe and transformative women-only spaces. Drawing on the practice from our current Members Programme and former award-winning Education Programme, this day will provide participants with a rich toolkit to develop inclusive practice.

The Lab - a three-day intensive workshop for theatre artists interested in a more comprehensive, deeper engagement with our practice, encompassing both how we work with women to how we produce theatre for different audiences. The three days will incorporate working closely with Clean Break Members in a collaborative process which is central to how Clean Break fulfils its mission.

Rebel Voices, Unlocking Potential and The Lab are open to any participants who identify as a woman. All other courses are open to participants of any gender.

A limited number of bursary places are available to anyone who has had direct personal (not professional) experience of the criminal justice system. To apply for these, please write explaining your interest in the training event to general@cleanbreak.org.uk marking your email FAO Anna Herrmann.

If you would like to find out more about our training programme and book a session click here. 


Alice Birch Clean Break

Blog: “How society treats its most vulnerable says everything”

Arts journalist Holly Williams talks to Alice Birch on all things [BLANK], our new co-production with Donmar Warehouse and her experience of creating work with women with experience of the criminal justice system.

When I tell Alice Birch I’ve read her new play, she’s shocked: “You didn’t read the whole thing? Wowsers.” This is hardly the usual reaction at basic interview prep – but then, the 32-year-old’s latest script is hardly a usual play.

[BLANK] comes in at 214 pages, with 100 separate, self-contained scenes: 50 to be performed by adults, 50 written for children – although fear not, no production should ever stage the whole thing. Instead, Alice’s script begins “This play is a challenge and an invitation to you and your company to make your own play”.

The play looks at the experience of women in prison as well as the impact incarceration has on their families. All the characters are unnamed – simply designated A, B, and so on – but Alice does thread tantalising character arcs and thematic connections through this exhilaratingly experimental piece. It would be possible to stitch together some dramatic narratives about women’s paths in and out of prison – but equally possible to make something abstract and multi-voiced. Crucially, no two productions will ever be the same.

“It’s a strange thing,” Alice acknowledges. “You want to offer something that could be very character-driven, the stakes could be high…but you also want each scene to work on its own, in case a director wants to do something much more kaleidoscopic.”

Her work has always been driven by formal experimentation, from Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. – a feminist text blowing up the conventions of gendered language, which won her the George Devine award – to the Susan Smith Blackburn prize-winning Anatomy of a Suicide, where the words of three generations of women are scored like a piece of music so that they overlap.

In the case of [BLANK], the structure grew out of a very specific set of restrictions. Clean Break actually gave Alice her first ever commission, following the success of her first play, Many Moons, at Theatre 503 in 2011. But Alice “couldn’t find the right thing for ages.” Then, the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, which commissions plays for young people, approached her about writing something too.

Most people would probably not leap to the idea of combining a play for a large youth cast and a play for adult women. But it was this “impossibility” that finally fired Alice’s imagination.

“I couldn’t see a world in which those two things existed – and then that became the point,” she explains. For the young people, the play is about the absence of their mother; for the adult women, it’s about being separated from their children.

[BLANK] has already been performed by NT Connections groups, using mostly the children’s scenes, and watching proved surprising: “You go ‘oh I didn’t see that in it, that’s really thrilling. And terrifying.”

The production, for the first time drawing on all 100 scenes available, will be performed by a cast of adult women, including two Clean Break members, as well as a few children or teenagers. How involved is Alice in shaping this production with Maria Aberg, in choosing which scenes make it in?

“I genuinely don’t know the answer to that,” she says. “I can’t say what should be in the production, otherwise I would have written that play.” And that’s why it’s titled [BLANK] – the invitation is genuinely open. But she adds that there is “something about the kaleidoscopic version that keeps it big, which I think is useful.” That broader approach may reveal how structural inequities within society and within the criminal justice system can funnel women into a cycle of crime and reoffending. Those structural problems are what have fuelled Alice through the writing of this play.

[BLANK] goes to some bleak places, but Alice felt she had to reflect the reality of a failing, overloaded system. “There’s a scene about someone having to make 45 meaningful observations [of female prison inmates] in an hour, and each of those people is at risk of self-harm or suicide. That was a figure I’d taken from a real-life inquest,” she says. “It is horrific: these women are dying. How society treats its most vulnerable says everything – and I think we treat prisoners appallingly.”

Alice had been an admirer of Clean Break since she first started writing. “As a young female playwright, lots of the texts I was picking up were commissioned by Clean Break. And often the plays felt quite quiet; it wasn’t about women walking into places and shooting everybody, it wasn’t highly glamorised. I really felt drawn to the quiet craft, the kindness.”

It’s an important point. Alice’s plays often have a ferocity and anger that’s certainly not evident when you meet her in person – she is a gentle presence, thoughtful and considered. And to see her work as just a howl of rage would be wrong: “I think kindness is really what I’m writing about all the time.”

Holly Williams is an arts journalist and editor. She reviews theatre for Time Out and the Mail on Sunday.

This piece originally featured in the Donmar Magazine

Click here to find out more about [BLANK]


tags : Blog