It started with a place. The Birmingham Lock-Up on Steelhouse Lane. It started with the Birmingham Police Records and the plans of Boldtext Playwrights and of Corinne Brazier and Steve Rice from the police museum to create a new piece of theatre to reflect some of the history of the Birmingham Lock-Up.
As the 8 members of Boldtext entered the lock-up for the first time, we were stunned by the space. We were amazed by the atmospheric, Victorian building which has actually been in use right up until 2016. It is a hidden place which few people have seen, besides the police officers and the people arrested or charged with crimes. As you wander through the stairways, cells, kitchen, charge desk and the underground tunnel leading to the Magistrates Court, you cannot help but wonder about the people who worked there or were held there in the last 100 years.
But wonder no more, as the police records provide details of those men and women. We discussed with Corinne the history of the building and people in order to work out the best story to be told. We decided on the time period when Police Chief Constable Charles Rafter was in charge of Birmingham from 1899 to 1935. It was the time of the 1st World War, the police strike, political upheavals, the Peaky Blinders and the first women police officers. At first we were centering our play on the Chief Constable but then we came across a character who spent a lot of time in the lock-up – the notorious drunk, Tommy Tank. He was the person to lead us through the building and introduce us to the ghosts from the past, both the criminals and the police men and women who worked there.
So we went away and each of us took the information on a real person to weave into a short play. We wrote, we met, we discussed the links and the differences. We wandered around the lock-up listening to echoes, banging on metal doors, calling from top to bottom of the building. And finally it all came together with 8 writers with 8 real characters emerging into a cohesive play about the lock-up. 8 stories became one play. And the audiences flocked in and left having received a unique experience. And now it’s back. Don’t miss it this time around.