When new production Woodhill premiered at Edinburgh Fringe this summer, its creators tried not to have any expectations.
After all, the gut punching choreography and unflinching script shine an uncomfortable light on what goes on behind closed doors in the UK prison system, specifically at HMP Woodhill, and give a voice to the grieving families of those who die in custody or prison.
And yet Woodhill went down a storm, selling out every night, gaining huge amounts of coverage, winning awards and provoking lots of questions about the current prison crisis.
Opening at Oxford’s North Wall tonight BOOK HERE, for writer and directer Matt Woodhead of LUNG Theatre it’s been a real mission to bring these stories to life.
“Yes Woodhill made a lot of noise at Edinburgh which was very validating for the families involved, who have never felt heard. So it needed to be authentic and true to their actual experiences,” he says.
Having scripted the show from hundreds of hours of interviews, Woodhill initially came about when Matt approached Janet Farrar, whose son Stephen died in Woodhill in 2013, and asked if she’d be interested in sharing her story with the world.
Matt then sent the play to choreographer Alexzandra Sarmiento (of Hamilton fame) who devised a dance piece to accompany the pre-recorded script, interspersed with spoken quotes from prison professionals and experts.
The resulting production is based on the stories of three male prisoners who died in HMP Woodhill, and opens tonight at Oxford’s North Wall BOOK HERE.
“We depicted Woodhill through dance because in one of the interviews a family member said they felt they were permanently dancing in grief, so it seemed apt,” Matt explains.
So what does Matt hope Woodhill achieves? “To bring people together and use theatre as a vehicle for social change.
“Because while Woodhill deals with grief and loss it is also about finding a community and showing that there is hope out there.
“It sheds light on humanity, as well as the crisis in prisons, and what has shone through is the resilience of the families in the face of overwhelming adversity.”
“So we are delighted to be bringing Woodhill back to Oxford’s North Wall, where it was co-produced, because we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Woodhill opens tonight at Oxford’s North Wall and runs until Saturday. BOOK HERE