News — Clean Break



a black and white photo with a distorted affect over the top of a Clean Break production from the 80s, there are four women on stage, three are in police hats with pig noses on.

Clean Break Launches Digital Archive

We are excited to introduce you to our new digital archive.

This unique online tool has been built from the extraordinary gems we unearthed during our 40th Anniversary Heritage project in 2019. We have brought this treasure trove of artifacts to life by weaving it together with the story of Clean Break. Bringing this to you in a digital format means it can be explored from anywhere in the world, at any time, allowing more people to discover the rebellious history of Clean Break and extending the reach of our legacy.

During our heritage project, we sat down with some of the incredible women who have been part of this journey, including Members, our team and Patrons, to hear about Clean Break’s impact both on their lives and on society. From these conversations, we created a video which you might have seen as part of our I am a Theatre exhibition at Swiss Cottage Gallery in 2021. We are delighted to now share this with you online for the first time.

To celebrate the launch of our new digital archive, we are also pleased to share proud moments from two women who played key roles in Clean Break’s formation and early success. Jacki Holborough is one of the theatre company’s founders, and Ann Mitchell is an actor and director, who was instrumental in Clean Break’s journey.

Jacki Holborough on being the first group of serving prisoners to perform outside of prison:

“There are so many proud moments, but I guess the first time that, when we were still serving prisoners, we went to play [Efemera, an original show] to the public at the York Art Centre. A group of twenty women, most of them never been in a theatre, it was just wonderful. We did a two hour show and we’d written it ourselves, directed it ourselves. It brings tears to remember just how proud, happy and joyful it felt. It was such a success.”

 Clean Break Efemera by Ask 'em out programme 1978

Clean Break Efemera by Ask 'em out programme 1978 / Clean Break Digital Archive

Ann Mitchell on directing the original Voices from Prison with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC):

“When I was acting at the RSC, I was asked if I would direct one of their first platform performances. Now, most of the actors understandably wanted to direct themselves in different plays or different scenes, but I didn't want to do that. I felt that the RSC, what I had experienced when I was there, was a sense of elitism so I wanted to bring in Clean Break.

The team, Clean Break women, wrote to prisons and got information and poems, just like the new Voices from Prison, which I think is wonderful. I had about 20-30 people on stage. We inherited the most amazing set, it just was like the gods had smiled on us, it was a set of trees and I placed all the actors in them, all wearing black with the occasional flash of red. They all had about four to five lines to learn, professional actors as well, and that's what we did, and it was remarkable.

I was so pleased, and very touched that Jenny [Hicks] had said in some ways that was the beginning of Clean Break being acknowledged in a wider world, and it was certainly the beginning for the RSC of having the community in - the critics said ‘the RSC opens its doors to the community’.”

Voices From Prison, Barbican, 1987

Voices From Prison, Barbican, 1987 / Clean Break Digital Archive



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 Cousins 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.

Somalia Seaton

Clean Break Writers Inspire at Royal Court Event

On 7 September Clean Break arrived at the Royal Court  with nine Clean Break Writers from past and present, a prison van and some incredibly excited staff members for our event Clean Break Writer’s: Here. There. Then. Now.

The event consisted of two panels where Clean Break writers shared their experiences of working within the creative industry and at Clean Break. The first panel was hosted by Paulette Randall and brought together Clean Break voices from the past including; Jacqueline Holborough (Co-Founder, Clean Break and writer of Killers), Tanika Gupta (Inside Out), Winsome Pinnock (Mules), Rebecca Prichard (Yard Gal) and Lucy Kirkwood (it felt empty when the heart went at first but it is alright now).

The conversation focused on the importance of how you tell stories of women in prison, with a focus on how you weave in voices of women serving sentences instead of attempting to speak for them. Winsome Pinnock culminated the discussion perfectly by stating; “I thought it was so important that I would not take their story, because I’m a playwright, and every play I write will do something for my career and there’s something about not using someone else’s story in that way, that you’re not ever going to appropriate someone’s story”.

The second panel was hosted by Jane Fallowfield and included writers that have worked with us over the past five years; Sonya Hale (Blis-ta), Tash Marshall (Clean Break Writer in Residence 2018), Stacey Gregg (co-creator, Inside Bitch) and Somalia Seaton (House).

The panel talked extensively through the process of working at Clean Break and focused on the importance of giving women the opportunity to grow within their writing in a supportive environment. All agreed on the importance of allowing space for people to write their own experience, highlighting the importance for those marginalised in the creative industries to have space to grow within their craft in a supportive and nurturing environment. Sonya Hale highlighted the conversation perfectly by stating, “It’s so important that women, and women of colour and working-class women are given a platform and the time, encouragement and finance to learn the skills to [tell their own stories]”.

But it wasn’t only the panel discussions that made our Saturday takeover of the Royal Court so special. As audience members made their way through Sloane Square they were greeted by the Sweatbox prison van, which held six sold out performances right outside the theatre. Sweatbox Producer Dezh Zhelyazkova commented; "Performing Sweatbox in front of the Royal Court Theatre felt epic for the company. Bringing the stories of society’s most marginalised to Sloane Square in a prison van, provided for a very surreal setting and inspired numerous conversations with our audience members and passers-by. This meeting of two very contrasting worlds enabled us to expand the reach of our work and create new and exciting connections". 

 Click here to find out more information on upcoming Clean Break events. 


Without Walls

Clean Break Members Feature in Short Film

In 2016, over one hundred years after it first opened its gates, HMP Holloway said goodbye to its last female prisoner and closed the final chapter of a famously controversial history. It has since been sold for over £80m and will be levelled to make way for 1,000 new affordable homes. Until redevelopment begins, HMP Holloway remains a scar of the North London skyline, a reminder for many of a justice system which maligned and failed women. Within its now deserted corridors remain fragments of stories which will soon be lost to history, but which remain very much alive for the women who were once held there.

Earlier this year, five Clean Break Members who each served time in HMP Holloway, envisioned such possibilities in a collaborative short-film project with documentary film maker Clare Richards. Part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) and created by Ft’work in collaboration with Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, Without Walls explores the experiences of our Members in Holloway, the impact it has had on their lives and the tensions caused when social and physical boundaries collide. Giving a voice to those who are often marginalized and silenced by society, the project sought to involve women in the conversation surrounding penal reform and asks them to share their own ideas about how our criminal justice system could better support women who offend.


In a series of hard-hitting, poignant, and at times funny conversations, Members discuss the harsh realities of prison life; from the claustrophobia of confinement in shared cells, antagonistic staff, nauseating sounds, daily stampedes just to get clean and the debilitating effects that prison has on a person’s state of mind. Each woman shared the sentiment that confinement within prison has far more detrimental affects than positive, and that alternative rehabilitative systems must be put in place.

So, what is the alternative? Our Members, and other advocates for reform, such as Women in Prison, and the Prison Reform Trust, pose women’s centres as the logical answer. Women’s centres are a sensitive and holistic approach to rehabilitation, providing support for mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and employment to break the cycle of deprivation and offending. A 2015 report by the Ministry of Justice found that rates of re-offending were reduced among women who had been given the support of a women’s centre, versus those who had not, while an impact study conducted by the Centre for Welfare Reform, discovered that all participants felt an improvement in their lives as a whole.

The case for women’s centres is clear. Holistic, trauma-informed approaches to female offending have far more positive results than our current carceral system. Yet with only 50 centres of this kind in the U.K, more investment is needed to ensure vulnerable women get the support they deserve. Women in Prison’s #OPENUP campaign is calling for the reduction of the women’s prison population and the creation of healthier, safer communities for all.

You can find out more about the Clean Break Member's programme here



40th Anniversary Season two

Clean Break 40 Celebrations Hit the Halfway Mark

Last week marked the halfway point of our year of celebrations for our 40th Anniversary, and what a week it was. We’ve rounded up the whirlwind of activity to make sure you didn’t miss any Clean Break action.

Women in Prison Mass Lobby

We joined Women in Prison on Wednesday 26 June for their Mass Lobby of Parliament to mark one year since the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Female Offender Strategy’. The Lobby called on supporters of the strategy, which seeks to reduce the women’s prison population, to meet en masse at the Houses of Parliament and raise the importance of the campaign with their local MP. Women’s organisations from across the UK rallied together calling on their MP’s to increase investment (especially funds generated by the £80m sale of HMP Holloway) and support for Women’s Centres, and examine circumstances surrounding female offending. The day was a great success, with many MP’s including Dianne Abbott and Vicky Foxcroft pledging to support the campaign in parliament.

Without Walls Film Screening

After the Mass Lobby, staff and Members continued the day at Rich Mix in Shoreditch for a screening of Without Walls, a short film created by Ft’work in collaboration with Clean Break and Sarah Wigglesworth Architects for The London Festival of Architecture. Poignant and compelling (we’re not being biased, it’s true!), the film explored the theme of boundaries, and, in the case of our Members, confinement. Five women described their experiences in stark detail, discussed the importance of Women’s Centres, and their ideas about alternatives to imprisonment. Set to haunting images from the now deserted HMP Holloway and illustrations from a former resident, Without Walls is a remarkably unique piece of storytelling.

Gender, Justice and Women’s Rights

Gender, Justice and Women’s Rights; Change, Progress and the Future was an inspiring event of lively discussion from Deborah Coles (Director, INQUEST) and Sonali Naik QC, both exceptional leaders in their respective fields. The event was hosted as part of the #FlyTheFlag70 celebrations which mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These two inspiring women detailed their ongoing efforts to effect women’s rights and penal reform in the age of austerity, where achieving fairness and equality seems like a never ending, but ever important battle. Over 10 years since the Corston report it’s a sad fact that very little has changed in women’s prisons. Yet the presiding message of Gender, Justice and Women’s Rights was hopeful; we must hold on to the change that has happened and continue to create it together.

Sweatbox comes to London

Sometimes to influence change you must cause a stir. Our current production Sweatbox, written by Chloë Moss seeks to do just that, bringing audiences into the cramped, claustrophobic conditions of a prison van as three women share their stories of arrival, survival and anticipation. Audiences arrived at Clean Break on Friday and left with some serious food for thought. You can still catch Sweatbox at Snape Maltings, Suffolk, on 24 August and Orbit Festival on 19 September.

We’re halfway through the year, but don’t fear, we still have six months packed full of activity to celebrate 40 years of Clean Break. Click here to find out what’s happening over the next 6 months.

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Take on a Challenge for Clean Break 40

We are looking for 40 of our friends and family to take on challenges in the name of Clean Break!

From a 5k run to a sponsored silence, we are looking for people who would like to help raise money for Clean Break to mark our 40th Anniversary year. Challenges are a great way to push yourself whilst supporting the work that we do, whether it’s a fitness goal or you’re looking to give something up, why not give yourself the extra incentive by raising money for Clean Break?

If you do decide to complete a challenge for us, you’ll not be alone, many of the Clean Break staff have already signed up, started training and raring to complete their challenge. Our Assistant Producer Dezh has taken on the incredible challenge of the London Triathlon, Westminster Olympic Distance. This consists of a grueling 1500m swim, 40km bike ride finished with 10km run. Her training journey and race day will be recorded on the London Triathlon website and social media channels, so keep an eye out for pictures, blogs and videos tracking her journey.

Other members of staff have signed up to run a 10K race and one will even be completing a sky dive, we will be sharing their training journey every step of the way, so make sure to keep an eye on our Twitter.

Supporting Clean Break through a sponsored challenge helps us to spread the word about what we do and, allows us to reach more women with experience of the criminal justice system who would benefit from becoming a Clean Break Member. So, if you fancy taking up a challenge, lets work together to change hearts and minds!

If you would like to get involved in a challenge and would like to represent Clean Break please contact or call 020 7482 8651. We will provide you with a sponsorship pack and support along your journey.

You can find out more about Clean Break and the work we do here. 


40th Anniversary Season two

Clean Break Announce 40th Anniversary Second Season

We are continuing our 40th anniversary celebrations with a second season featuring a Donmar Warehouse co-production, a Methuen Drama anthology of monologues, a production touring the UK in a prison van plus talks, events and workshops.


We've teamed up with the Donmar Warehouse to commission [BLANK] a striking new full-length play written by Alice Birch and directed by Maria Aberg which takes a kaleidoscopic view of what happens when a woman goes to prison. This production will run from Friday 11 October – Saturday 30 November 2019.

Clean Break’s Rebel Voices Launch

Clean Break celebrates 40 years of producing ground-breaking women writers and writing by its Members with this anthology of 40 monologues from 40 Clean Break voices.

To mark the release of the anthology, we will host an evening of readings highlighting the rich tapestry of Clean Break’s history of working with some of the most vibrant, daring women writers in British society, as performed by some of the UK’s most treasured women actors. The cast includes Jackie Clune, Michelle Greenidge, Jennifer Joseph, Ann Mitchell and Lia Williams.


We are delighted to announce that we will be reviving Sweatbox in our 40th year. Travelling across the UK, Chloë Moss’s Sweatbox invites you to enter the back of a prison van in which three women share their stories of arrival and anticipation as they are transported from court to prison, from prison to prison and from prison to court.

Clean Break @ High Tide Festival

2019 is a landmark year for Clean Break as we celebrate 40 years of holding a megaphone up to the voices of marginalised women and making our mark on the theatrical world. At HighTide this year, we will share a special sneak peek at what’s in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond with a series of rehearsed readings from writers including Sonya Hale and Natasha Marshall.

Clean Break @ 40 Leadership Event Series

To celebrate our 40th year we will be hosting various leadership events which interrogate women's position in the criminal justice system and the arts.

To kick off these leadership events we will be discussing activism, women and power with Southall Black Sisters. Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Shakespeare’s Globe) will chair a panel which explores themes of justice facing women, the current context and the strategies both organisations have adopted to affect change and reclaim power.

We will then see Deborah Coles and Sonali Naik QC in conversation at Garden Court Chambers. This special event sees Sonali in conversation with Deborah Coles as she shares stories of her personal motivation and passion for human rights and justice, her journey within the legal profession and her reflections on the role that Clean Break has played in women’s lives that have been affected by the justice system.

Rebel voices

Rebel Voices Monologue Book

We are delighted to announce that Rebel Voices: Monologues for Women by Women is now available for pre-order. The book released as part of our 40th Anniversary celebration, contains 40 monologues picked from our plays past, present and future as well as original pieces written by women who have experience of the criminal justice system.

Rebel Voices: Monologues for Women by Women celebrates the opportunities inherent when women represent themselves. Offering female performers a diverse set of monologues reflecting a range of characters in age, ethnicity and lived experience, the material is drawn from a mix of published and unpublished works.

This book is for any performer who does not see themselves represented in mainstream plays, for lovers of radical women's theatre and for rebels everywhere who believe that the act of speaking and being heard can create change.

To find out more about the launch event, Rebel Voices On Stage happening at The Donmar Warehouse on 12 May, click here.

Click here to pre-order your copy of Rebel Voices


Clean Break announces Gillian Greer as Creative Associate

We are delighted to welcome playwright and dramaturg Gillian Greer as our new Creative Asssociate as part of our 40th Anniversary. Within her role, Gillian will extend the dramaturgical and developmental rigour of our core commissions during and beyond its celebratory year.

Anna Herrmann and Róisín McBrinn, Joint Artistic Directors commented, "We are absolutely thrilled that Gill has joined us for our 40th anniversary year. We are deeply impressed by Gill’s energy, passion, knowledge of theatre and strong dramaturgical skills. We know she will make a significant contribution to the company, working with our current commissioned writers, developing our Members’ voices and helping to connect us with new and unique female artists."

Gillian Greer noted, "It’s an absolute honour to be joining the team at Clean Break for their landmark 40th year. The company is a powerhouse of formidable women with an incredible mission at its heart that I have admired and I look forward to supporting the amazing work that they do."

As a script reader, Gillian has worked with the artistic teams at Theatre503, The Abbey Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Mercury Theatre, National Theatre and more. In 2018, she joined the team at Vault Festival as Head of Theatre and Performance, where she programmed over 400 productions in collaboration with the Vault Festival creative team. As a playwright, her debut play Petals was nominated for the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2015, and she has since seen her short work performed and published in Ireland, London, Edinburgh and New York. Last year her second full length play Meat was shortlisted for the Theatre503 International Playwriting Award.

We would like to extend special thanks to Jon and NoraLee Sedmak for their support of this role.

Click here to find out more information on what’s happening across the company as part of our 40th Anniversary.

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