From prison to the world from Open Clasp

Peter Lathan

A play which began in a NE prison is to be streamed globally this month.

Commissioned by Dilly Arts, which is based in Allendale in Northumberland and focuses on working with communities most in need and ‘hard to reach’, Open Clasp’s Key Change, began life in the Young Offenders Institution at HMP Low Newton when actors Jessica Johnson and Cheryl Dixon worked alongside Open Clasp’s artistic director and writer Catrina McHugh supporting the women in the prison to tell their stories, which led to them performing the play they devised to the other women.

The play was further developed when the original three were joined by director Laura Lindow, choreographer Holly Irving and actors Christina Berriman Dawson, Judi Earl and Kate McCheyne and Key Change was the result. It was performed in male prisons across the North East and had a run of two nights at Newcastle’s Live Theatre.

Further performances followed and in 2015 it went to the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Northern Stage at Summerhall programme. Hugely successful in Edinburgh, it won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award which took it to New York where it premièred at the Fourth Street Theatre on 7 January 2016, receiving a New York Times Critics’ Pick.

It was performed at the Houses of Parliament on 25 October 2016, in partnership with the National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice, CLiNKS and the Prison Reform Trust, to an invited audience which included key decision- and policymakers.

It also had a very successful national tour.

Now it has been filmed at a special performance at Durham's Gala Theatre and will be streamed to audiences around the world at 7PM on 25 November to mark the United Nation’s campaign to end violence against women. Commissioned by The Space, a digital commissioning organisation supported by the BBC and Arts Council England, it will be available to watch online throughout the UN’s 16 days of activism campaign from 25 November until 10 December 2017.

Building on Open Clasp’s regional, national and international relationships, Key Change will be distributed through partners in the women’s rights, arts, academic and criminal justice sectors including UN Women, The British Council and Penal Reform International. Open Clasp will also work with partners in the UK and US to organise community screenings in prisons, community organisations and educational establishments, reaching diverse and under-represented audiences.

Fiona Morris, CEO and Creative Director of The Space, said, “we’re delighted to be working with Open Clasp to bring this compelling testimonial drama. The online distribution of the play will allow voices and stories that are seldom heard to reach audiences around the world with messages that are as universal as they are personal.”

The stream will be available to watch online on Open Clasp’s web site and at a series of live events across the world including venues in the UK, US, New Zealand and Australia with more still to be confirmed.

Catrina McHugh, who will receive the MBE for services to disadvantaged women through theatre at Buckingham Palace on 7 November, said, “the response to Key Change, both at home and internationally and in the prisons we’ve visited, has been overwhelming but the success of this project is down to the collaboration with women from Low Newton prison so I thank each and every woman who put their trust in us to tell their stories.

“Thanks to The Space, we’re incredibly proud to have this opportunity now to share Key Change with a global audience. With support from UN Women and key partners including the British Council, Penal Reform International, Prison Reform Trust and the National Alliance for the Arts in Criminal Justice, we hope to reach an even bigger audience.

"On 25 November, I want Key Change to stop the world, for 16 days rock it off its axis and throw it on a better course, one where we see a world free of violence against women and girls.”