Clean Break: An interview with artistic director Róisín McBrinn
Róisín is Head of Artistic Programming at Clean Break, an exciting theatre company that believes theatre has the power to change lives. Set up in 1979 by two previous inmates of Askham Grange prison, the company has been committed to telling the stories of women affected by the criminal justice system for almost 40 years. Alongside this, it runs an education programme for currently and recently incarcerated women, enabling them to train and study.
Clean Break has just showcased its new Double Bill of plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016, and the next stop on the tour is East London’s Yard Theatre. The plays are House by Somalia Seaton and Amongst the Reeds by Chino Odimba. The Upcoming caught up with Róisín to learn more.
How were Amongst the Reeds and House received at the Edinburgh Fringe?
We’re really pleased with how the double bill has gone down with Edinburgh audiences. There’s been a great response on social media and there’s been some lovely reviews.
Both plays speak of survival but also of the role of mother/family. Were Chino Odimba and Somalia Seaton working to the same brief, or did these similarities arise organically?
The only brief we gave Chino and Somalia was to write a play inspired by Clean Break and their time with us. As part of our Emerging Writers’ Programme, both writers attended workshops at Clean Break as well as with our partners at The Tricycle, Bristol Old Vic and Manchester Royal Exchange. They both taught on our education programme here at Clean Break and Somalia spent time in an open prison with one of my colleagues, delivering a performance residency.
Chino spoke with a Refugee and Asylum Seekers group and with legal professionals to create Amongst the Reeds. Have any of these contributors seen the play?
Hopefully they will at the London run.
What sort of feedback do you get from women on your Education Programme?
Really positive feedback. Clean Break is a very happy, uplifting place where there are lots of women who are true survivors working hard to bring about meaningful change in their lives. It is often described as a sanctuary where friendships thrive and women make positive changes for their futures. 5% of the women with a prison background who come to Clean Break reoffend within six months of leaving prison, compared with nearly half of women prisoners on release.
Clean Break focuses on women with experience of the criminal justice system. Does this make the tone of your own everyday work somewhat dark, or are there enough uplifting moments to balance it?
The place I go to work every day is one of the most uplifting places I know. We have almost 200 women who come through our courses per annum and the energy, hope and joy, and creativity that emanates from the building is inspirational.
What has Clean Break taught you about the justice system? And about women?
That it does not benefit society, or the majority of women who are sent to prison to be there, in the current prison format of the UK.
How much power do you believe theatre has in helping to effect change in the world?
At Clean Break we are driven by the belief that art can change lives. This can be about a small change of perspective in an audience member, or a seismic change in the direction of a vulnerable woman’s life. Both hopefully making the world a safer, fairer, kinder place to live in in some small way.
Are there any other shows you’re particularly looking forward to at Making Mischief Festival?
It was great to see Somalia Seaton’s new play as part of the season, and Alice Birch’s. Both are Clean Break writers and it was wonderful to see a season that had a proliferation of female talent. We are delighted for Somalia that she has her Clean Break show and her RSC debut on in the same summer. She is a very special voice and we think she has a bright future ahead!
Do you have a favourite London theatre? Or a favourite London place?
The Yard is up there for me. We are so happy to have the double bill there as part of such a strong season of new work. Jay and the team are completed devoted and have created something special in Hackney Wick. It’s an exciting venue to see innovative work at, and has a lovely feel to it too!
My favourite place in London is Hampstead Women’s Ponds. It’s a really special sanctuary that I have taken refuge in many times!
What else can we expect from Clean Break this year?
We are working with the Royal Exchange in Manchester as part of their B!RTH season. We will be doing a reading of a new play by Laura Lomas there in October.
We can’t wait. Thank you, Roisin.
Photo: Jane Hobson
For further information about Clean Break, visit here.
Watch Roisin talk about Clean Break’s previous play Joanne here: