Originally staged by prisoners to fellow inmates, Luke Barnes collaborated with HMP Wandsworth to create a new piece of theatre with eight inmates about how they survive a life behind bars. This new production, performed in The Maria Studio, is presented by a cast of young men aged from 18 – 25, whose lives have all been affected in some way by the criminal justice system.
Josh Parr directs Ayomide Adegun, Raphael Akuwudike, Jake Mills, Rushand Chambers, Pierre Moullier and Tej Obano.
Our Q&A with Tej Obano
What attracted you to be a part of The Jumper Factory?
Initially got a general mailing-list email through about the re-staging of the play at the Birmingham Rep as part of the European Theatre Festival. At the audition, we were told that the script was built on personal stories of all the prisoners that were performing or had intentions of performing. That for me was remarkable, because as an actor you try to find the truth in the script however, in this case, it wasn’t difficult as everything was authentic.
What is at the heart of the production?
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing as prison is so multi-faceted, but I’d say the circumstances surrounding reform. It’s extremely hard to reform in a place where the main focus for many prisoners’ is to survive. Whether it’s survival amongst inmates or survival within the environment that you’re placed in, the first thing you have to do before reform is even contemplated is to survive.
Why is performing in this production important for you?
As said above, you always want to represent the characters you’re playing in the most accurate and authentic way. Luckily enough we were able to meet a few of the inmates that were a part of the project. One on the outside and few still inside. We weren’t aware of their crimes upon meeting them which allowed us to approach our conversations with as little prejudice as possible. They answered any niggling questions we had regarding the script, were completely honest and open with anything we brought up and reiterated how intent they were on reforming. They gave an insight into their day-to-day as well as their overall prison experience and it made you realise how a lot of prison life and infrastructure ironically works against reform.
Without excusing any crimes, inmates are humans and some of the heart-breaking stories we heard made me realise that their stories aren’t being told fairly. For the rest of the weekend, I wasn’t able to process that experience properly but I made a promise to channel that into my performance. For their crimes they need to be punished, however, everyone regardless of their social circumstance deserves to be portrayed accurately.
Can you tell us about the character that you play and their ‘story’?
So the play is actually told from one perspective – to protect the identities of the prisoners – however there are many different monologues and duologues within the play. The sections that I play range from a new prisoner and their introduction into prison to a prisoner who’s assimilated into prison life while dealing with members of his family.
What are you hoping the audience will take away from watching The Jumper Factory?
I feel that majority of stories regarding prison and inmates are told from a perspective that reinforces a prison stereotype. I’m hoping that The Jumper Factory allows people to have a more varied insight into how difficult the circumstances are inside prison as well to eradicate a two-dimensional view of inmates that I feel a large proportion of society has. Also to empathise with the fact that inmates are not solely responsible for their reform but that there is a wider problem of limited infrastructure inhibiting their progress.
What next for you in 2019?
Following the Young Vic run, we have a few tour dates in March at Bristol Old Vic and New Wolsey Theatre. This production has inspired me to continue telling more meaningful stories educating myself and others along the way. I’m hoping The Jumper Factory opens up more opportunities to do so through Film, Television and of course Theatre.
The Jumper Factory
By Luke Barnes
Conceived by Young Vic Taking Part and Justin Audibert
Directed by Josh Parr
Director: Josh Parr; Sound Designer: Mike Winship; Lighting Designer: Jess Glaisher
Costume Designer: Catherine Kodicek
27 February – 9 March 2019
Young Vic Listings
66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ