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17 February 2011

By Colin Hambrook

image of a long, dark, victorian corridor

The Knitting Circle by Julie McNamara

Having a first outing at the Soho Theatre, London, from 21-23 February, The Knitting Circle is an exciting new work in progress, reuniting director Paulette Randall and writer / producer Julie McNamara. Based on the testimonies of people who survived the asylums, which closed in the 1980s and 90s. Each actor was matched with people who lived or worked inside long stay hospitals and one young woman born to tell her Mother’s story.

It promises to be a chilling glimpse into the hidden worlds and stolen years inside the asylums. For me personally the title is apt in summing up something that was deeply entrenched in the old-school psychiatric system. Knitting was more that a pastime, it was a way of life for many women locked away in a system that refused no quarter for self-determination or even basic human rights, in many cases.

In those twilight years my mother knitted, nervously by day and by night. She was literally trying to knit her way out of this universe and into a better, kinder one: one that didn't poison her with drugs that destroyed white blood cells and electricity that destroyed the brains synapses.

The play will ask who was really mad, bad and dangerous in a system which often locked women away for lifetimes for the crime of being poor or of having a child out of wedlock.

Tickets for this run are currently sold out. From Julie McNamara's track record I know this is a play that demands a bigger outing beyond Soho Theatre.

Film-maker Alan Clifton interviews actors and production team

Julie McNamara says: "I am so thrilled that Alan Clifton took creative control of this film, interviewing the cast and Director Paulette Randall to get their insights on the process so far."

"Alan has been with the company for some five years now as a trainee Lighting Assistant and Stage Manager. He has joined us on three national tours and four different productions. It's about time other Companies took on disabled artists with learning difficulties and broadened our horizons. The only thing standing in the way of artists like Alan moving forward in their career and developing their own work is your attitude and mine. Time for change?"

Paulette Randall, Deni Francis, Karen Spicer, Vincent Jerome, Hazel Maycock, Penelope Freeman, Julie McNamara and Alan Clifton are in The Knitting Circle rehearsals at People Show.

Comments

Lesley Willis

/
13 March 2011

My over -riding feeling coming away from this show was the powerful impact of the stories of survival. What I loved about the writing was that the playwright hadn't exaggerated - she told us the stark truths of people's lives in the bleakest hardship. The simplicity of the bare stage with bold, striking images worked really well. Things that weren't being over-stated were evident in the images accompanying the action.

The actors were stunning, utterly convincing and powerful. In spite of the horror, I left with a feeling of hope - somethng to do with the resilience of the human spirit. Those who did survive, survived through the love they had for each other.

Often people with learning difficulties, or vulnerable people in society are equated with weakness. I was up-lifted by the strength of resources people found to survive - through friendship, companionship, their relationship with their chairs, their cigarettes, their own excrement. They created extraordinary strategies to survive.

I had never considered before how vulnerable the staff in those hell holes were too. That came as a surprise.

I really hope this gets funding for further devleopment.

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