The Lyric Theatre production of knife crime drama The Long Road was performed inside Hydebank Wood prison for an audience of up to 40 women prisoners this week.
The powerful play tells the story of a fatal stabbing by a young woman who was 'off her head’ on drugs and how the victim’s family deal with their grief.
The playwright Shelagh Stephenson spent many hours talking to victims and perpetrators of violent crime, visiting prisons and collaborating with the Forgiveness Project, a charity working in the fields of reconciliation and restorative justice. The result of her research is an emotive drama which never sentimentalises the tough subject matter.
Director Richard Croxford, from the Lyric, said he was impressed with how the play was received by the prisoners and the questions posed during the post-show discussion.
“The production went fantastically well,” he said. “The prisoners sat attentively throughout and laughed in the right places. I couldn’t believe how tuned into it they were. Some of them even believed the cast were the real victims of the crime.
“The cast were certainly nervous about going into the prison but the play had been developed by the playwright working with victims of violence and had toured prisons in England. There were also some very insightful questions by the audience during the Q&A session. I know from talking to the prison guards that the women were affected by the play which was the aim. The prison officers, themselves, thought it was a very raw, emotional piece and will be providing a counselling service for any of the prisoners affected personally by the play.”
The Lyric cast will return to Hydebank Wood next week to perform for young male offenders.
The Long Road tells the story of two brothers, Joe and Dan, who go out for the night but one never comes home. Eighteen-year-old Dan dies from a single stab wound inflicted by a young woman, Emma Price (Bernadette Brown) who is ‘off her head’ on drugs.
The whole family struggles to deal with their loss which reaches a heart-rending climax when their mother Mary (Sheelagh O’Kane) seeks to meet her son’s killer in prison. The cast also includes Jo Donnelly, Brendan Fleming and Chris McCurry.
This critically acclaimed drama received its Northern Ireland premiere at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast where it runs until 21 October in the Naughton Studio.
Gilly Campbell from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is the play’s principal funder, said: “The Lyric has provided an outstanding cultural programme over the past 40 years and it continues to generate some of the most groundbreaking and innovative theatre that Northern Ireland has to offer. The Long Road is a hard-hitting yet powerful play that deals with a family’s emotional journey to forgiveness after their son is stabbed. A portrait of grief, the play is unfortunately all too topical in today’s modern society and will undoubtedly resonate with audiences here.”
The Long Road runs in the Naughton Studio until Sunday 21 October.