Justice is still weighted against women say creators of new Brixton House play

A play exploring the real stories of women who have faced the criminal justice system in the UK opened in Brixton on Friday.

The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women was commissioned by The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), and Clean Break, a theatre company predominantly working with women who have encountered, or are at risk of experiencing, the criminal justice system.

Directed by Brazillian theatre artist Janaina Leite, 32, with co-director Lara Duarte, 31, the production is a devised work that centres around the autobiographical stories of Clean Break cast members in association with Brixton House.

Yvonne Wickham, cast member and Clean Break member artist, 65, said: “It will make people aware that women are criminalised more harshly than men and they go to prison for more petty offences than men.

“You’re not allowed to have rage, when you’re a woman it’s classed as aggressive, but when a man does it he’s assertive.”

Clean Break Theatre Company
Photo © Ellie Kurttz the cast of The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women

Wickham became a service user at Clean Break in 2007 and gained a degree in performing arts from London Metropolitan University before becoming a Clean Break member artist in 2013.

She added: “Clean Break brought out my creativity that laid dormant for many many years.

“I hadn’t done anything creative at all in my life until I came to Clean Break.”

According to statistics from the Prison Reform Trust from 2023, six in every ten women serve sentences of less than six months, despite claims that short sentences are harmful and ineffective.

The theatre company was founded by Jacki Holborough and Jenny Hicks who attempted to stage a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the yard of HMP Durham’s high security wing for female prisoners in 1977, before it was deemed a security risk by the wing governor and stopped.

Cast and Creatives at Clean Break
Photo ©Ellie Kurttz the cast of The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women

Clean Break was officially formed in 1979 and for 45 years the company has been running workshops in prisons, staging productions and campaigning for the fair treatment of women within the justice system.

Leite and Duarte were partnered with Clean Break through LIFT, and have a longstanding history of working with autobiographical stories in their theatre making.

The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women first started as a workshop in February last year, and has since become a fully-fledged three act production.

Leite said: “This production will explore how the justice system has direct consequences in women’s lives.

“The women we’re working with are very marked by their stories, they are very powerful stories.

“The rage is present, but so is the joy, and the intimacy.”

Duarte added: “We want to make the ideas between gender and rage more complex, it’s not a simple thing.”

Productions for The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women are at Brixton House between the 14th-22nd of June.

Featured Photo ©Ellie Kurttz the cast of The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women

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