Brixton inmates find the play's the thing to beat re-offending

Indira Das-Gupta

It is not often that you see the work of the great bard and Ol' Blue Eyes performed on the same stage, but that was precisely the theme of a remarkable production at HMP Brixton last week.

Shakespeare 'n' Sinatra is produced by the Dream Factory, a collaboration between the prison and charity London Shakespeare Workout. It is the first full-time dedicated arts training facility within a UK adult prison.

The production combines The Winter's Tale with Sinatra classics and original work by Dream Factory members. The two main roles are played by professional actors, but most of the smaller parts are acted by prisoners and ex-offenders.

As the plot unfolds, Paul Greenwood, a professional actor, acts as an oracle and intermittently breaks into a suitable Sinatra classic. For example, as Laertes battles with his jealousy, he sings You're Nobody Til' Somebody Loves You.

Prison governor John Podmore said: "It's all about opportunity. Most of the lads are dying to be given a chance to prove themselves. They go back to their cells after the performance buzzing, and other inmates see that and will want to try it for themselves."

Podmore hopes that the project will help tackle the 80 per cent re-offending rate among younger offenders. He says: "Most of those in the performance have been back here three or four times, 80 per cent have been crack-cocaine addicts and many have a history of suicide attempts or self-harm. We need to give them self-esteem and something to replace their addiction."

That the scheme is popular with the inmates is undeniable. One of the performers, Lloyd Evans, was released a few days before the show but returned to take part. He said: "I had always wanted to try acting so I decided to give it a go. What I really like about the Dream Factory is that you aren't treated like a criminal."

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