Members of the public taken into prison
Prisoners have taken part
Years working in Prisons
Pimlico Opera has an excellent model for this project. Repeatedly tried, tested and proven to achieve remarkable results both in terms of the show itself and in developing our relationship with the prisoners – resulting in a truly inspirational meeting of worlds.
Two of the Pimlico Opera team “walk the wings”, signing up those who like the idea of singing and performing. “Do you like acting?” often elicits a cheeky response: “Well I tried last time I was in court and look what happened”. Thus, an initial group of prisoners has been gathered. The group ebbs and flows in the first week of the rehearsal and by week two, numbers have settled, and the creative team casts the show. What follows is five full weeks of rehearsal – all day, every weekday. Prisoners return to their cells for lunch but otherwise spend these days as would a professional cast.
The final technical and dress rehearsals take place in the gym, which is transformed into a theatre with a lighting rig, raked seating and orchestra. There are several public performances and further performances for fellow prisoners and prison staff.
Pimlico Opera’s work in prisons creates a springboard for dialogue between prisoners and the public who are astonished by the talent they see. The prisoners transport the audience, inspiring them to think creatively about how prisons might better prepare prisoners for life on the outside. There is powerful evidence for the benefit that this work has to society, the public purse and the wider economy. Improvements in prisoner rehabilitation and the lowering of re-offending can only be a good thing.
Since 1991 Pimlico Opera has taken more than 50,000 members of the public into prison. 1,000+ prisoners have participated, whilst 9,000 prisoners have seen a show. Pimlico Opera receives no public subsidy and was founded in 1987 by Wasfi Kani.
In 1989 Pimlico Opera performed two operas in Wormwood Scrubs: Le Nozze di Figaro and Walton’s The Bear. The first joint production with prisoners took place a year later with people serving life sentences.
1991 HMP Wormwood Scrubs: Sweeney Todd
1992 HMP Wandsworth: West Side Story
1993 HMP Wandsworth: Guys & Dolls
1995 HMP Wandsworth: West Side Story
1996 Mountjoy Prison, Ireland: West Side Story
1997 HMP Bullingdon, Oxfordshire: West Side Story
1999 HMP Downview, Surrey: Threepenny Opera
2001 HMP Winchester: Threepenny Opera
2002 HMP Winchester: West Side Story
2003 HMP Wormwood Scrubs: Guys & Dolls
2004 HMP Ashwell, Leicestershire: Assassins
2005 HMP Coldingley, Surrey: Assassins
2006 HMP Bronzefield, Middlesex: Chicago
2007 HMP Wandsworth: Les Misérables
2008 HMP Kingston: Sweeney Todd (project cancelled)
2009 HMP Wandsworth: West Side Story
2010 HMP Wandsworth: Carmen – The Musical
2011 HMP Send, Surrey: Sugar
2012 HMP Erlestoke, Wiltshire: Les Misérables
2013 HMP Erlestoke, Wiltshire: West Side Story
2014 HMP Bronzefield: Sister Act
2015 HMP/YOI Isis: Our House
2017 HMP High Down: Les Misérables
The experience of going into a prison was instructive and sobering but the Pimlico Opera and HMP High Down staff were very reassuring
Nikki Woollaston was right, I think, in her introduction to say that all involved including the audience would be changed by the experience
Pimlico Opera has provided the drop in the ocean of life for these men, and I dearly hope that they can hold onto all the good that they have experienced as they continue their sentences.
Pimlico Opera surpassed themselves and the prisoners played their parts from their hearts - it was moving, uplifting and a privilege to witness.
It was simply superb . Powerful , dynamic and most moving , an amazing achievement bringing great good and healing to these unfortunate people.
I am a forensic psychiatrist and spend a lot of time in prisons, including Highdown. It was uplifting to see the prison and the inmates from a totally different perspective.
Unless you've been there it's difficult to comprehend the enormity of the achievement of Pimlico Opera's work in prisons
I cannot tell you how impressed i was by the whole thing from start to finish: the prison staff, the inmates, the professional players… it was humbling and darling and hope-providing. It proves that if you treat people decently they respond like girasole, sunflowers turning in the sun.