The world premiere of Elizabeth Fry: The Angel of Prisons, the latest in a series of site-specific plays inspired by the history of Newham in east London, will be staged this month in the Elizabeth Fry Room at Canning Town Library.
The new play, written by James Kenworth and directed by James Martin Charlton, runs for nine performances only from Monday 22 to Saturday 27 August 2022, with a press night on Wednesday 24 August.
In Elizabeth Fry: The Angel of Prisons, three prisoners have a story to tell. It’s the story of Elizabeth Fry and how she changed prisons forever. But this is not a history lesson. You’ll hear both contemporary and historical language. You’ll see both modern-day and period mash-up costumes. Because the question remains the same today as it did in Elizabeth Fry’s time: does prison actually work?
Elizabeth Fry is forever linked to Newham because she and her husband lived from 1829 to 1845 in Upton Lane House, West Ham. In addition to her prison work, she was a regular visitor at gypsy encampments in Plashet, dispensing food, clothing and medicine to the local Gypsy and Irish communities.
Elizabeth Fry: The Angel of Prisons is the latest instalment in The Newham Plays, a series of site-specific, localist-focussed plays rooted in Newham’s history, culture and people, created and written by James Kenworth. The plays are a unique collaboration between a writer, director, designer and professional actors working alongside students from Newham schools and young actors from local youth groups/theatres.
It continues the collaboration between Kenworth and director James Martin Charlton, following Gob, starring ex-Take That star Jason Orange at the King’s Head Theatre, and Revolution Farm, “a terrifically powerful update…Highly recommended” (The Independent) version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm staged on an inner city farm in Newham.
Like previous Newham Plays, Elizabeth Fry: The Angel of Prisons will be performed by professional actors and local young people, and following the production, an Elizabeth Fry Education Resource Pack will be produced and free drama workshops run in our partner schools.
Women make up only 4% of the total prison population. In 2020, 5,011 women were sent to prison – either on remand or to serve a sentence. Despite a recent decline, there are still twice as many women in prison today as there were 27 years ago.
Seven in 10 women in prison (71%) reported that they had mental health issues compared with nearly half of men (47%).
About Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829 when she moved to Upton Lane in Forest Gate. She has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Angel of Prisons’. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by the reigning monarch.
In 1813, Fry made her first visit to Newgate prison where she observed women and children in terrible conditions. She began working for the reform, campaigning for segregation of the sexes, female matrons for female prisoners, education and employment (often knitting and sewing) and religious instruction.
“Punishment’s not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal” – Elizabeth Fry
In 1817, Fry created the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners and, along with a group of 12 other women, lobbied authorities including Parliament. In the 1820s, she inspected prison conditions, advocated reform and established more groups to campaign for reform. In 1823, prison reform legislation was finally introduced in Parliament.
Elizabeth Fry: The Angel of Prisons runs from 22 to 27 August 2022 at Canning Town Library (Elizabeth Fry Room), 18 Rathbone Road, Canning Town, London E16 1EH, with evening performances at 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 3pm. Pay what you can (suggested donation £5). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!