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Prisoners behind Bard

The last thing you would expect at the Corradino Correctional Facility is prisoners quoting Shakespeare. But under the wings of a leading British director, they are not only doing that, they are also putting up a play at St James Cavalier which will lead to a documentary film for global distribution.

After all the criticism unleashed at Malta’s prison last year, Shakespeare is proving to be a breath of fresh air inside the correctional facility’s walls for 2012.

‘To be or not to be’ is being given a very positive meaning at the CCF’s Young Offenders Rehabilitation Services (Yours). A group of about 10 inmates – whose average age is 21 – will be taking part in the project being produced by the internationally-renowned London Shakespeare Workout (LSW) company.

“Shakespeare said: ‘Don’t make your thoughts your prisons’ and this is all about freedom not just for inmates but for us all,” Bruce Wall, executive director of the LSW told The Sunday Times.

The LSW aims to be of service both to the theatrical profession and to the broader community at large. Its Prison Project community outreach programme holds specific drama workshops in prisons across the world.

Their productions have involved over 9,000 offenders and ex-offenders, and leading practitioners often include professional performers and celebrities, ranging from Sir Jonathan Miller and Al Pacino to Fiona Shaw and Kenneth Branagh.

But this is the first time the production of the play will be made into a documentary.

The original music score of the performance has been written by a number of British composers; and Natasha Sterlin – a heavyweight in the film industry – will be behind the cameras.

“I am impressed by the Yours inmates – there is something special from the response I got, from their focus and concentration, and eagerness,” said Dr Wall.

“I want this film to be a role model for the world. The world needs to see this.”

The documentary, which will include the play and pre- and post-production snippets, will be released internationally in April.

Dame Judi Dench is rumoured to attend the premiere in Malta.

Auditions and rehear­sals for the production, entitled ‘When you hear my voice’ started last Wednesday. None of the inmates have ever acted before.

Will they rise to the task?

“Oh, they will – they are actors. They’ll forget they are in prison. You will see the masks fall off and it will be Shakespeare as we have never seen before,” said Dr Wall.

International stars such as Dame Harriet Walter (from the film Antony and Cleopatra) will hold masterclasses with the inmates to give them the unique opportunity to learn from the very best.

There are no condescending undertones in this project: “There’s nothing worse than being patronising. This is a window of opportunity to make something real. And this film will address several issues for the real and right reason,” said Dr Wall.

Joanne Battistino, operations manager at CCF, said the cast will be an international one, as current Yours residents include Maltese, UK, Ethiopian, US, Estonian, Spanish and Portuguese nationals.

Ms Battistino explained that the project took off following an LSW workshop held at Yours last September as part of the Annual Conference of the European Prison Education Association.

Prison educators from European countries came together to discuss and share practices, and Dr Wall was invited to hold a practical demonstration of what his work with drama therapy is about. The inmates’ enthusiasm during the workout, which consisted of a number of vocal and team-building exercises, left a mark on Dr Wall and he was adamant not to let it stop there.

He will be in Malta to oversee the project through the whole of January, till the last filming day on February 12.

The play, which will run for four nights at St James Cavalier in February, will tackle the restorative powers of literacy.

It will be an amalgamation of different Shakespearean plays, together with writings from the inmates themselves.

Dr Wall has included Il-Kantilena – the first known piece of written Maltese literature – as part of the play.

“It’s a celebration of cultures and literacy, together we just want to underline the importance of the will to dream, because there’s more to us than our criminal act,” said Ms Battistino.

‘When you hear my Voice’ will be staged at St James Cavalier Theatre, Valletta, between February 6 and 9. Tickets are available from http://sjcav.org . For more information on the LSW visit www.londonshakespeare.org.uk.

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