Prisoners embrace Shakespeare’s Macbeth in stage production in Queensland jail

Posted November 18, 2016 18:22:43

Inmates at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre will take centre stage and this time it will be for theatre, not a real life drama.

These hard men with lengthy criminal histories are finding another side to themselves, through Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.

The project has seen rehearsals at the high-security prison on the outskirts of Gatton, west of Brisbane, for the past three months.

Director Kat Dekker from the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble said it was an ambitious task taking men who had no knowledge of the famous bard’s work through to a full performance.

“You find for these men if they have any knowledge of Shakespeare, they think Shakespeare is not for them, Shakespeare is for someone smarter or someone richer,” she said.

“They can test it out, see if it’s for them, but what we find is very soon as they look at the texts on the page they say ‘this guy is saying what I feel’.”

All around the world the work of Shakespeare is taken into prisons, with its timeless concepts striking a chord with those serving time.

“What we offer is a space for men to be a little softer, to explore their vulnerability, to put on a dress or a wig if they so desire,” Ms Dekker said.

A ‘beautiful escape’ from prison life

The lead roles of Lord and Lady Macbeth are played by prisoners who have never acted before.

The man who played Lady Macbeth — whose real identity cannot be published — said it was a “beautiful escape” from prison life.

“It’s challenging, it’s something new — actually I quite like the dress to tell the truth,” he said.

“It’s been awesome, it evokes us to bring out the better part of ourselves in a place that likes to see the worst half of ourselves.

“It’s good confidence-building, it’s been a journey — three months of bonding friendships with our little crew.”

Those privy to the full dress rehearsal say the theatrical newcomers deliver a compelling performance.

“It takes a lot especially to learn lines — that’s incredible — I never thought I could remember anything,” the prisoner playing Macbeth said.

And when he takes to the stage for a series of scheduled performances he is really hoping to impress one person, his mother.

“For my Mum I want her to be proud — I want my Mum to see me do something that she’d never expect me to do,” he said.

Project offers time for self-reflection

The jail houses 350 men and getting to be in the Shakespeare cast is a reward for prisoners.

Deputy director of the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre, Nick Rowe, said it was “very touching to see the guys in a different environment from what they’re used to”.

“You’re used to seeing them in the house blocks where they’ve got this macho image and they need to keep that, but coming here looking at the passion that they’re displaying, it’s fantastic,” he said.

Mr Rowe said he believed the project was about redemption and by keeping the prisoners active and part of a team that had time for self-reflection, they change.

“Some of them guys have got long histories, long convictions — as I said they’ve got incidents and breaches that have gone on within this facility — [but] while they’re on the program we see that drop,” he said.

The prisoner playing Lord Macbeth said he had learnt so much from the experience and was very grateful.

“They’ve allowed me to realise that I can associate with normal people that I can speak to people in a normal way,” he said.

“When I was out last time I felt I wasn’t able to communicate, but now I’m more open to it — I’m not so judgemental.

“And now I know people aren’t so judgemental with me either.

“This is a strong thing for us, this is a powerful thing — I can’t say that everyone’s going to be reformed and that kind of thing, but I can say it helps.”

Topics: people, human-interest, prisons-and-punishment, law-crime-and-justice, theatre, gatton-4343, qld, australia, toowoomba-4350

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