Pimlico Opera: drama at Isis prison

Between 27th February and 7th March, arts organisation Pimlico Opera brought Madness to HMPYOI Isis with a production of the musical Our House. PET's researcher Morwenna Bennallick went along and reports back.

“Pimlico Opera has been producing theatre with prisoners for 27 years, although this was the first collaboration they had done with young prisoners. After working with the group for 6 weeks, perfecting the lines, the songs, the dances, the show developed into a slick production of the West End musical Madness, Our House.

Entering the prison gym, I was struck by the elaborate and professional set. Huge monopoly tiles made up the lit staging which was suspended by an impressive rig. The audience packed out the tiered seating. The space felt like a West End theatre and was a world away from its usual purpose.

The cast was made up of a team of professional actors and some talented amateur actors from HMP Isis.

The play followed the alternative lives of Joe Casey in a style reminiscent of Sliding Doors. After getting into trouble with his young love interest, he is torn by a stay-or-go dilemma. Overseen by the ghost of his dead father (played by Suggs himself!) he journeys through life seduced by criminality. The divergent narratives of ‘good Joe’ and ‘bad Joe’ highlighted the difficulties of making the ‘right’ decisions when it is so tempting to hide from mistakes. The journey took ‘good Joe’ to a young offenders’ institute, but after struggling through some difficult times, came out top in the end.

25 year old Ray stole the show with his shrewd bad-boy character Reesey. After studying Performance Arts at Kingsway college, this was an opportunity for him to use his skills and on-stage charisma. Not all cast members had this experience to bring to the stage and the experience was clearly valuable to the cast in many ways. For Joao, who played Ray and Harper and was an ensemble member, it has given him a new direction in his life:

‘Doing Our House reminds me how important it is to find yourself within your heart. I didn’t think it was my thing until I got more involved. Now, I have a dream to be a successful actor/singer as well as to build hospitals and schools in Angola and other parts of Africa’.

The cast performed some great renditions of Madness classics such as ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘It Must be Love’ and a brilliantly witty scene set to the backdrop of ‘My Girl’s Mad at Me’. It was an endearing, funny and poignant production.

Attractive creative opportunities in prisons are a key way of developing confidence and skills and supporting somebody through their sentence. This is why PET provides grants for prisoners to buy arts supplies. The impact that this creative outlet can have in reducing reoffending was demonstrated by Justice Data Lab results.

As stated by Zamari, a member of the ensemble: ‘Pimlico Opera will always hold a special place in my heart. That they should come to a place full of convicted criminals tells me that there are people out there who believe that everyone deserves a second chance- and I’m really grateful for that.’

Pimlico Opera work with schools and prisons, using artistic excellence in music and drama to advance personal development."

Please note: Above image is a stock image of a Pimlico Opera production and not the Madness show.