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Open Clasp announces the sequel to Key Change

Published: 15 September 2018

In 2014, Open Clasp Theatre—writer Catrina McHugh, director Laura Lindow, choreographer Holly Irving, along with actors Christina Dawson, Cheryl Dixon, Judi Earl and Jessica Johnson and actor / stage manager Kate McCheyne—worked together with a group of women from the Young Offenders Institution at Low Newton Prison in Durham to create a play telling their stories. That play was Key Change which was first performed in June that year and which BTG reviewed at Live Theatre.

It not only played in local theatres and, like all Open Clasp productions, to women-only audiences in community settings, but went on to have a special performance in the House of Commons, to play at the Edinburgh Fringe where it won the Carol Tambor Award which took it to New York for an off-Broadway run and a New York Times Critics’ Pick award before returning to the UK for a sell-out tour in 2016. It was later filmed by The Space for digital distribution and, in a period of 15 days in 2017, was watched online 64,800 times and there were 25 hosted screenings in England, Scotland, Australia and America.

At the end of Key Change, four women walk towards the prison gates imagining what life will be like when they get out. don’t forget the birds is the true story of what happened next for one of the original collaborators, Cheryl Byron, who is now released.

The real-life mother and her daughter Abigail are now working with the company to bring their story to the stage. This first-hand account tells how prison took a mother from a daughter and the journey they had to make to find each other again.

The UK still has one of the highest rates of women’s imprisonment in Western Europe. Earlier this year, the Prison Reform Trust published What About Me?, a report into the impact on children who have experienced their mother being imprisoned. It found that it “has a potentially devastating impact on children, regardless of the age of the child and the length of sentence the mother receives.”

By supporting Cheryl and Abigail to tell their story in this way, Open Clasp aims to highlight the impact a parent or family member going to prison has on a family. Having a parent in prison is heavily stigmatised; don’t forget the birds allows audiences the opportunity to step into the shoes of a real-life mother and daughter and to join in their post-show discussions to debate about reform and the impact on young people when a family member is incarcerated.

Writer and Open Clasp’s Artistic Director Catrina McHugh MBE said, “I first interviewed Cheryl and her daughter in 2016. Both told their story of what happened when the prison gates opened.

don’t forget the birds is told from their own personal viewpoint; not only what happened next, but of life before prison and its impact on them both. Neither had heard the other’s viewpoint until the first draft of the script was read; at this moment, director Laura Lindow and I had no idea if this project would break or mend their relationship. Fortunately, the latter was the reality; life and art merged and threw both women back on track.

“The play is a story of survival, strength and hope for those wanting to make change a reality. It is a total honour to work with this real-life mother and daughter. In 1998, our first play After Her Death was about mothers and daughters, so this is a special production as we celebrate 20 years of Open Clasp.”

don’t forget the birds is written by Catrina McHugh and directed by Laura Lindow. It opens at the Queens Hall Hexham (13 to 14 November) before a national tour including Live Theatre Newcastle (20 to 24 November), Theatre Deli Sheffield (15 November) and Battersea Arts Centre (28 November to 1 December).

Peter Lathan