• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Fringe 2023: Woodhill

ByJemima Hawkins

Aug 7, 2023
Three people stand behind empty shelves with boxes labelled 'flowers' at their feet.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It is hard to stress enough the gravitas of this performance. A dynamically choreographed dance show to a verbatim, spoken word backing that explores the first-hand experiences of three members of society whose family members took their lives at the prison HMP Woodhill. The performance explores the questions of why and how this was allowed to happen and the correlation between severe mental health disorders and those incarcerated. Furthermore, it brings to attention the ramifications of both prisons and the social housing in which many inmates grew up, built by those who will never experience it.

The performance consisted of three actors representing real grieving families and a fourth representing the ghost of unjustly lost lives. It questions the deep-rooted problems with the UK’s prison system and the injustices that lie at the heart of punishment over help.

The set was made up of movable metal storage shelves holding boxes named with privileges not allowed within the cell, from books and clothes to one empty box poignantly titled ‘memories’. The shelves moved with the show, as did the expertly timed lighting, creating a sombre but immersive atmosphere. Despite their lack of spoken lines, the actors’ static and twitching movements displayed the trauma and negligence of the system, not only on the inmates but on the families externally affected. This was epitomised by the unseen voices asserting, ‘Our boys didn’t kill themselves, they were killed’ after the emotive explanation that a brother, step-brother and son had all reached out to the prison for help to no avail.

The show forced the audience to evaluate the worth of the lives of those incarcerated as prison funding is cut, and the number of inmates is rising. The inquest into prison deaths requiring only four questions was heard while the actors sat atop the metaphorical boxes of their loved ones in grief; a life boiled down to who died, when, where, and how.

This show asks you to reexamine the crisis unfolding in UK prisons and the stories that go unheard every day about lives needlessly lost. On every seat in the auditorium was a card linking to the Woodhill Families Group in an attempt to procure accountability for the death of their loved ones.

A very powerful show that will leave you feeling the desire to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers.

Woodhill is on at 8:55 pm at Summerhall on various dates between 6-27 August. More information and tickets are available here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/woodhill

Image provided to The Student as press material.