Forget the new theatre. The place in Milton Keynes for top Shakespearean acting is Woodhill Prison!!
Some of the best classical actors in Britain have been flocking to the goal to provide acting classes with inmates.
Actor and director, Bruce Wall, who runs the classes with up to eight other actors says he is amazed by the talent and skills shown by the convicts and has even tipped one for a career on the stage.
There is an astonishing amount of talent. The prisoners are a joy to work with, he said.
The Workout runs classes for actors in London and guests have included such luminaries of the British stage as Janet Suzman, Fenella Fielding and Sam West, together with Hollywood star Richard Dreyfus.
The company was asked to work with prisoners by the goals overall head of Education, Julie Mills, after she attended one of its workshops.
The actors, many of whom are members of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, work with the inmates in two-hour sessions held in the prisons education block.
The prisoners go through a physical and vocal warm-up before learning the principles of the five stress iambic pentameter verse form used by Shakespeare.
They perform exercises in speaking and improvisation in the Shakespearean verse format and even write their own verse. The inmates also watch actors performing segments from Shakespeare and are involved in choral duties throughout these periods, Shakespearean lines having been distributed to them previously.
Games are also played in which the students make up their own Shakespearean insults utilising The Shakespeare Insult Kit, insulting each other in Elizabethan language.
Bruce, a 40 year old New Yorker who has worked on Broadway and the West End said: "The results are electrifying. We had one young inmate who could not read or write but learn to speak and improvise in perfect iambic. The sessions work well because Shakespeare is universal. He touches us all, no matter who we are or what we may have done. Many of the inmates have never experienced this kind of work before but they can join in and create their own verse because the rhythms are perfectly natural.
We never ask them why they are in prison or what they have done. That is their business. They are serving their sentences and we are there to help them discover fresh confidence and the joys inherent in Shakespeare.
One prisoner has produced an entire verse poem based on Macbeth which was read by Janet Suzman who described it as gold indeed. Bruce said, We have worked with several inmates who are very talented as actors and writers. One boy in particular could easily perform professionally.
One prisoner penned this verse after a session with the actors:-
Cell doors and bars do not a prison make.
Our minds must rest now on a higher stake.
Thus we can make up verses on the run
When LSW each month doth come.