SUGAR at HM Prison Send

It is not often you get to watch a musical inside a women's prison, but tonight that is what I did.   I had to take my passport to the prison and had my hand stamped with a butterfly in the family wing outside the prison walls.  A thrill seemed to run along the visitors as we waited for the guards to open the white iron gates to let us in - the drama had already begun.  Walking along the pathway, beside the high barbed wire laced fence,  a woman pulled back the curtain of her cell and stood watching us with such a sense of yearning that I had to look away.  Apart from the prisoners who performed in the show she was the only inmate I saw.  The guards guided us to a huge tent with metal walls which served as the theatre.  It seated about four hundred people, and every seat was filled before they shut the door behind us and ceremoniously rolled up the black carpet that led across the acting area.

It was a very moving show and unlike anything else I have ever watched.  The knowledge that  most of the performers were inmates of the prison never quite left my mind.  I found myself watching them in a different way, searching their faces and wondering what they were there for.  But it didn't take away from the drama, merely added another intense dimension.

Pimlico Opera collaborated with Send prison to produce Sugar, a musical based on the film Some Like It Hot.   The musical book is by Peter Stone, lyrics Bob Merrill and music by Jules Styne.   Pimlico has been staging musicals in prisons since 1991 when they produced Sweeney Todd in Wormwood Scrubs which was described as a "coup de theatre" by the Times.  Pimlico have brought 25,000 members of the public into prisons to witness these special events.

Sugar is a very faithful rendering of Some Like It Hot, with all the brilliant humour that cross dressing can achieve.  The professional leads, playing the parts that Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon performed to worldwide acclaim, were Victoria Ward, Duncan Patrick, Rob Gildon and Deryck Hamon as Sir Osgood.  There were also two male pro dancers along with a 17 piece band but the rest of the cast and many of the backstage crew were inmates of Send.  They had been impeccably rehearsed in just six weeks, and produced faultless dance routines, shoot outs and slick polished performances with an energy and passion that was heart rending to watch.  The attention to detail was wonderful in the costumes and make up and it was clear that everyone who had been involved had given their all to this piece of theatre.  One inmate called Gaillene Young who played the band leader Sweet Sue was an extremely good actress.  She had stepped in to play the part at short notice when the original cast member got released!

At the end of the musical, Jerry (the Jack Lemon part) tells Sir Osgood that he can't marry him - removing his wig he yells "I'm a man" and Sir Osgood replies "Well, nobody's perfect".   Somehow this line meant more here than it did in the film.

At the end of the show one of the inmates took the stage to tell us all how wonderful the experience had been, and although I am not sentimental about prisons it was difficult not to weep.


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