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June 20, 2017
Disorder Confined: a Theatrical Examination of Madness, Prison and Solitary Confinement, Shop Front Theatre, June 29 - July 1.
When solitary confinement was introduced to the penal system of Britain and Ireland in the mid-19th century, it was meant to give prisoners an opportunity to reflect on their crimes and reform.
Instead, it was quickly apparent that isolation induced 'hallucinations, delusions and self-harm' among those subjected to it. Despite that, its use persisted and it even became part of the punishment regime in jail.
It still is, in spite of long-standing and growing fears about its impact on the mental health of prisoners in today's fragile penal system.
The devastating effect of solitary confinement is explored in a new play by Coventry theatre company Talking Birds, developed in association with centres for the history of medicine at both University College, Dublin and the University of Warwick.
Using prisoners' memoirs, doctors' notes and the reminiscences of prison staff, Talking Birds have infused the story with music, song, compassion and humour to explore the rationale behind solitary confinement and the responses of those exposed to it.
Writer and director Peter Cann said, "This show is the final part in a trilogy of work we've made together, exploring insanity, its treatment and containment in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over time, we have developed a way of working that takes historical material - which makes fascinating if rather grim reading - translating it into charatcers and stories which resonate with today's issues."
The earlier plays in the trilogy were Three Doctors, marking the history of Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, and The Ballad of Elizabeth Barnwell.
Image courtesy of the Howard League Archives held at the Centre for Modern Records at the University of Warwick.
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