Interview: Laura Lindow – Key Change
'The women that we worked with, as they say, are survivors rather than victims'
This article is from 2015.
'You have to have courage to visit those places,’ says director Laura Lindow, as she discusses her latest project, Key Change: a piece which was developed in collaboration with a group of women in Low Newton prison. But when Lindow talks about 'places', she isn't referring to the prison itself. She is alluding to the emotional places brought to life by the women she worked with, as they told their stories and shared their personal journeys with Lindow and the rest of the team at Open Clasp Theatre. 'You have to have the courage to take it out there,' she explains, and that is exactly what the company plan to do at the Fringe.
Before the play was created, Open Clasp spent time with the female offenders in a series of workshops designed to help them explore their voices. 'We didn't go in with any answers,’ says Lindow. 'We went in with an openness and drama strategies in our pockets to help the group to unlock and tell the stories that they wanted to tell.'
This meant asking the women to create fictional characters based on an element of truth, an exercise which proved interesting in terms of the issues being raised by the group. 'There were a lot of commonalities in what they brought, the experiences that these fictional characters had – experiences of poverty, of abuse. The piece reflects how they have dealt with different situations and different circumstances, which is with humour, with resilience, compassion, and optimism.'
After working closely with the women, writer Catrina McHugh then went away and translated the essence of the workshops into a piece of devised theatre, the result of which is described as 'a raw and illuminating portrayal of women in prison'. It is clear speaking to Lindow that this piece belongs as much to the women as it does to Open Clasp, and this is rooted in the respect that the company has for them.
As she says, the initial impact of entering the prison was dispersed instantly upon meeting the 'brilliant group' they were to work with. 'It gives you a fright when the door closes and you hear the key, and you see the razor wire and you receive the impact of all of that. But once that's behind you, it's just people working with people.'
Working on such an intimate piece of theatre requires a strong bond between the participants, and Lindow says this was clear from the offset. 'It's like they are in such close communication with one another … I suppose we knew that we wanted to honour that sense of togetherness, but also, we understood what a position of trust we were in.'
This level of trust was continued between the company and the women, even after the workshops were over and the piece was being developed. Before it was to be shown to an audience, it needed the stamp of approval from the most important critics of all: the women themselves.
'They've obviously seen it when it was in the prison, and given it their thumbs up,' she says, 'but we had to earn that, we had to earn their approval. We had to take it back to them and say, you performed it, this is what we've done with it.'
Inevitably, there were some tweaks to be made, but now that the final piece is established, the company are excited to share it with the world.
'For these women to be represented on such an international stage, when these voices are so seldom heard feels important. The women that we worked with, as they say, are survivors rather than victims. I think the story and the play reflects that.'
Northern Stage at Summerhall, 560 1581, 10–30 Aug (not 12, 19, 26), 12.30pm, £12 (£10). Preview 8 & 9 Aug, £10.