Two Theatrical Touches at HMP Woodhill
28th September 2000

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     Charmian Gradwell         
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            DIARY ENTRIES
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             Colin George

Brief Biography: 
Charmian Gradwell
Charmian has enjoyed a lengthy and charmed theatrical career.  Beginning as a West End cover for, first, Cheryl Kennedy and, later, Mel Martin in John Dexter's celebrated production of Shaw's Heartbreak House with Rex Harrison, Diana Rigg and Rosemary Harris, Charmian has gone on to play a wide range of roles including Suzanne in Nicholas Hytner's production of The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Lampilo in Sir Peter Hall's celebrated production of Lysistrata, in a variety of featured roles for the Royal National Theatre, as Mazeppa in Jude Kelly's celebrated production of Gypsy with Sheila Hancock, opposite Dora Bryan in Tim Lucsombe's Chitchester Festival production of Blithe Spirit and has just recently returned from eight brilliant months in Nigeria and Shri Lanka where she has enjoyed many theatrical adventures.  On Television Charmian will be remembered for everything from playing Gnoard on The Adventure Game to Jenny Richards on Howard's Way.  Charmian even represented Great Britain for Canoeing.   
Diary Entry: 
Thor Heyedahl once said: "Borders? I have never seen one, but I heard they exist in the minds of most people."  The many locked doors at HMP Woodhill were a very physical reminder of enclosed space-- but once joined by the participants of the workshop, bounderies again ceased to exist. 

For me the most memorable moment of the day,was working with Kevin, who could neither read nor write. We found a line of Shakespeare that struck a chord with how he felt and he beat out the iambic rhythm against his chest, eventually creating three lines of his own to complete his poem. 

Did we do any good? I think so, but it is hard to quantify.  One of the basic skills teachers sent a positive word back immediately, having read some of the participants wit slings; others effusively thanked us for a great afternoon.

The single Dutchman in the group summed it up for me-  "Shakespeare wrote well didn't he?  It was good that."

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Brief Biography:  Colin George

Graduating from Oxford Colin George started a touring Shakespeare Company. Before you could say "To be or not to be" he had played Romeo, Petruchio, Bassanio, Cassius, and Henry V - the latter on BBC television. Having added Hamlet and Brutus to his Shakespeare roles, in his forties he turned to directing, established the
Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, with international designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, at the instigation of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and inspired by their theatres in North America at Minneapolis and Stratford, Ontario.  After six years in Australia as Artistic Director at The State Theatre of South Australia Adelaide, and eleven as Head of Acting at the prestigious Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong, he returned to his first love -- acting and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993, leaving them in 1999. He then toured his one man show - 'My Son - Will !', which premiered at Stratford. His forty five years experience as a performer ranges from the classics - Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov and Moliere to musical comedy ; his television appearances include a spell in the world's longest running soap opera Coronation Street; and on film - He has directed internationally in Ottawa, and Stratford, Canada; in Belgrade, Jugoslavia, in Warsaw, at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and his Chinese production of "The Bacchae" toured to Beijing and Shanghai. Having taught for eleven years Colin is an experienced director of workshops and has lectured on the Greek and Elizabethan theatre. Click here for Colin's full acting and directing cv.   Colin's editor and director of My Son - Will! for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Fringe Festival was Anthony Naylor. He was a member of the RSC in the seventies, began directing in the eighties in London, moved to the United States, where his credits include twenty five off, and off-off Broadway productions.  For further information please see Mr. George's website.s

Diary Entry:

I was early at the main gate of Woodhill prison. It was not a gate in the normal sense of the word : one walked through an open doorway into something from ‘Star Trek’ – sliding electronic doors, speaking into a microphone to a figure behind bullet proof glass --psychologically placed to be towering above you. This is a state of the art prison. The voice said the computer knew nothing about me, or Bruce Wall, or Shakespeare. The computer is never wrong. I was resolute and sat on a bench and waited. 20 minutes went by….more. Had I got the wrong day? Of course. I got up to go. Then something made me wait. Bruce duly arrived with four actors – late because the London train had broken down. However, there was a further technical hitch with Security and it took us another 50 minutes, and a personal visit to the Deputy Governor, before the sliding doors slid open and we went inside.

It looked – a first impression - like a well appointed motel. Only in the open spaces between the several buildings were there what looked like tall lamp posts with wire and coloured balls strung between : not decoration – but to prevent helicopters landing and attempting a rescue.

The actual workshop ? It lasted two and a half hours. I found it challenging ; games, yes, but they took a lot of concentration. About twenty five young men in their late teens or early twenties, and one or two older men. If I had expected something out of Dickens – there was no Magwitch from ‘Great Expectations’ - I would have been disappointed. Our fellow workshoppers were spry, ready to become involved, and laughter was always just around the corner. With about thirty men in the room, and two women, there was of course a high sexual charge in the air, which the girls handled superbly: never unaware of it, occasionally playing to it, and always in control of it.

I suppose I remember most the concluding exercise – writing blank verse inspired by lines from Shakespeare’ s ‘Venus and Adonis’ (I said it was challenging]. An older man who sat next to me suddenly said ‘ I’ m in prison for life, you know’ : he had done the first fifteen years, and said he felt sure the next fifteen would be easier. As we struggled through William’ s mellifluous lyricism (why not choose a sonnet, for god’ s sake ? – but Bruce, and God bless him for it , aims for the stars), the man said ‘I write poetry, you know ; I’ ve written one about Chernobyl. Would you like to hear it ?’ Indeed I would. And he recited about five or six lines - not Shakespeare I have to say ; but the fact that someone locked away for a large part of his life could continue to respond to something outside his confinement, a disaster that he found ‘dirty’ and ‘threatening’, made me pause for thought.

He didn’ t manage the iambic pentamer, incidentally, nor did the man on the other side of me ; but to my surprise, although they both rhymed in shorter measure – they responded with ease to the images in the highly wrought verse. Then it all finished. As they were leaving the two men came up to me and, with unforced gratitude, shook my hand - ‘Thanks for coming’ . I am glad that I waited.

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