How would you survive in prison? ‘The Jumper Factory’ provides the audience with insights into that very question. This production, written by Luke Barnes, was created in collaboration with eight inmates from HMP Wandsworth. During this fast-paced 45 min show, six young men aged between 18-25, deliver stories of people behind bars. Each of these actors has been affected in some way by the criminal justice system. We are not told specifics, but someone was arrested, someone visits family members in prison and someone’s family members are prison guards.
The stage is simple – the actors sitting on a line of chairs, facing the audience as they fill in, with the Fugees’ ‘Ready or Not’ playing in the background. The actors work together brilliantly and you can’t tell who has and who hasn’t had formal training. Sometimes they speak as one, other times, they take the lead, but throughout, you feel that they are speaking the same voice, where a series of prisoner experiences has been condensed into a single unnamed character – the voice shared by all actors.
We watch him from the moment of arrest, going out to meet the police so as not to wake up his Mum. He now leaves behind his mum (who believes he’s going to work in a ‘Jumper Factory’), his girlfriend and his child, and we track his static journey through prison and explore his state of mind. We gain insights into his hopes, his fears and his dreams.
We watch as he has to get used to being in a cell 23 hours per day, having one cold meal and one hot meal per day. He is encouraged to use this time in a positive way, an older cell mate encourages him to read and study. Doing time is made bearable by dividing it up into smaller chunks, with visiting time and even dinner time to look forward to. We learn how much his misses just a simple hug from someone. We see how paranoia easily sets in, how this character worries about his girlfriend not waiting for him, and another man becoming Daddy to his son.
The play explores whether prison really does reform certain people. Are some people inherently bad? When an inmate has been making good progress during their term, but makes one bad decision, is it right all privileges are removed, and they are only assessed on the bad things that have done?
For a brief 45-minutes, the audience might be gripped, entertained and stimulated but this remains the everyday experience of all the men who contributed to the show. It is impressive that in the space of a one-act play, we are provided with such a vast perspective on life in Wandsworth. The actors portray a man who wants to be good, to get through it by keeping his head down but struggling to retain is balance against the overwhelming pressure and loneliness he experiences all the time.
Created as part of the Young Vic’s ‘Taking Part’ initiative, The Jumper Factory, has so much to say about what happens after the crime has been committed and the punishment determined. This is a heartfelt plea to be remembered and understood by the men counting the seconds until their next milestone, whether that’s their parole date or just dinner time.★ ★ ★
The Jumper Factory is at Home, Manchester from 10-14 September 2019. Please note this show is not suitable for people under 14. It contains strong language and haze.