How do you celebrate Christmas in incarceration? Weighed In Productions presents the first major revival of Head-Rot Holiday, Sarah Daniels’ 1992 play set in a ‘secure hospital’, at the Hope Theatre, supported by Women in Prison, a charity that helps women avoid and exit the criminal justice system.
Head-Rot Holiday, directed by Weighed In Productions founder Will Maynard, runs at the Hope Theatre, in Islington, London, from 27 November to 22 December 2018, with a press night on 29 November.
December 1991. In a secure hospital for the ‘criminally insane’, three women prepare for the Christmas disco. The parole board’s recipe for early release: put on a dress, wear some makeup… and dance with a rapist or killer of your choice. Ruth hears voices but distracts herself with karaoke.
Claudia defies the racist nurses and longs to see her children. Dee applies mascara for the first time and is paid a visit by an angel. Behind iron bars, the patients and nurses of Penwell Special Hospital ask: in such a topsy-turvy world, who are you to say that I’m insane?
Sarah Daniels‘ play was originally produced in 1992 at Battersea Arts Centre by Clean Break, a theatre company dedicated to telling hidden stories of imprisoned women. The incendiary play is credited with having lifted the lid on the horrors of these so-called ‘special hospitals’, helping to bring about their widespread closure. Three decades later, Weighed In Productions presents this first major revival at the height of another mental health crisis in women’s prisons.
Director Will Maynard comments:
“I don’t think there could be a more relevant time to stage this play. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice published its long-awaited Female Offender Strategy, a pledge to reform the nation’s approach to women’s justice. We’re also living through a time when women’s stories are rightfully being championed more than ever, and the sometimes neglected work by radical voices like Sarah Daniels is being revisited.
“Head-Rot Holiday confronts the hidden abuse of three women sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sentenced to ‘treatment’ in a high-security hospital for their crimes. Although many of these ‘special hospitals’ – as they were known – have thankfully now been closed, mental health in women’s prisons has never been properly addressed.
“Today, women account for 21% of all incidents of self-harm in prison, despite the fact they only make up 5% of the prison population. Over half the women in prison today have experienced domestic violence or abuse in childhood, and the experience of prison mirrors their trauma, inhibiting rehabilitation. Prison is, frankly, one of the worst environments for people whose crimes can often be traced back to the abuse they’ve suffered.”
Maynard’s staging of Head-Rot Holiday is deliberately scheduled in the season during which the play it is set. “Christmas”, says Maynard, “is an incredibly difficult time for some people, particularly those in the criminal justice system who are away from or do not have family. I hope people will see this as an alternative Christmas show and consider spending that Secret Santa tenner on what will hopefully be a challenging but entertaining evening. Sarah Daniels is one of the most important feminist voices of her generation, and her irreverent style and poignant humour is a rarely performed treat.”
Working with Women in Prison
To ensure that the topic is dealt with accurately and sensitively, Maynard and the Head-Rot Holiday team are working closely with Women in Prison – a charity which supports women affected by the criminal justice system and campaigns to significantly reduce the women’s prison population through investment in specialist community support services.
“When Will contacted us about his plan to re-boot Head-Rot Holiday, we were immediately keen to support the production in whatever way we could”, says Claire Cain, Policy and Campaigns Manager for the charity. “Its content is already hugely relevant to the ongoing crisis of women’s mental health in prisons, and Will couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate time to stage the piece. We’ll be looking forward to delivering some post-show events together with him.” She concludes: “We really believe the production has the potential to help raise awareness of the impact and harm of imprisonment on women, their families and our communities.”
Women in Prison was born out of the anger that founder Chris Tchaikovsky felt about what she saw when imprisoned in HMP Holloway. The charity supports women to avoid and exit the criminal justice system and campaigns for the radical changes needed to deliver support services and justice for women.
Head-rot Holiday runs from 27 November to 22 December 2018 at The Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, London N1 1RL. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.45pm. Tickets are priced £15 (concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!