“An arresting production full of realism and injustice”


Laurence Saunders and Graeme Rose as Charles Muscroft and ‘Tommy Tank’

Our latest show Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up recently closed after captivating sell-out audiences over the course of twelve successful shows. Don’t just take our word for it. Read Steve Orme’s review in the British Theatre Guide:

Bold Text Playwrights is a group of eight professional writers from the West Midlands whose aim is to create fresh platforms for their work.

Individually, the eight have written everything from scripts for The Archers on Radio 4 and Doctors on television to comedy, serious drama and opera. Collectively, they present regular showcases of new writing at Birmingham REP.

They could hardly have chosen a more appropriate setting for Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-up. The building that’s being turned into a museum was until three years ago your destination if you were arrested by the police in Birmingham; the austerity of the cells almost takes your breath away.

The eight playwrights each contribute a scene to Behind Bars, writing about some of the police officers and notorious characters from the past who for various reasons found themselves in a cell with their name chalked on a board outside.

A captive audience of 70 is led through the building in a promenade performance, experiencing the harsh, stark reality of life in prison.

Behind Bars starts slowly as we meet handcuffed Thomas Larvin, nicknamed Tommy Tank because of his ability to drink in huge quantities. He tries to get the better of Charles Muscroft, a CID officer turned police photographer who continually wants to take his mug shot.

From then on, the production rattles along through a chain of fascinating and illuminating tales.

It’s held together admirably by Graeme Rose as fishmonger Tommy Tank, a loveable rogue who was locked up after someone played a trick on him, stealing his barrow and fish. They were returned as he called in a policeman and in his frustration he smashed a pub window, leading to his arrest for criminal damage.

Rose then transforms himself into James Twitty, a young man with a speech impediment and a tottering gait. He and an accomplice broke into a woman’s house with the intention of robbing her. They were charged with murder after the woman suffocated by swallowing her false teeth. Twitty’s cry of “we only meant to gag her” echoes chillingly around the building.

The action moves to an upstairs cell to hear the story of Frederick Ratcliff, a police officer wounded in World War I. He tries to get his colleagues to strike for better conditions, not realising that they all died or were wounded at the Front and their names are inscribed on a roll of honour on a wall.

It’s a moving portrayal by Laurence Saunders, exploring the depth of a character suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who is broken when the truth sinks in. It’s written by Tim Simpson who sensitively directs the whole performance.

Did you know that Sarah Bernhardt had to attend the Lock-up to sign the “aliens register”? Alison Belbin cleverly depicts the French actress who had only one leg as well as showing us a down-to-earth Evelyn Miles who became one of the UK’s first women police officers at the age of 50.

Becky Wright shines as Maud Dillon, a respectable woman who was arrested for shouting and swearing in public, described in the 1920s as “indecent behaviour”. She elicits sympathy as she reveals she will lose her daughter and her job if the magistrates send her to prison.

Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-up is an arresting production full of realism and injustice. Bold Text Playwrights are guilty of putting on a captivating show that will no doubt be judged a success.



Tim and Corinne meet Sunny and Shay!

Tim and Corinne

We were delighted to be invited to appear on the Sunny and Shay show on BBC Radio WM to talk about our show Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up. BOLDtext member and director Tim Stimpson joined Corinne Brazier from the West Midlands Police Museum to chat about how the production came about, some of the characters and stories involved, and the exciting plans for the Lock-Up’s future. You can listen by the clicking on the links below.



If you’re reading this before the production closes there are still a few tickets left for 11am, 2pm and 5pm on Sunday 21st July 2019. Grab them while you have the chance!


Your Ugly Mug

Your Ugly Mug

Before cameras came along, police had to rely on an artist’s impression or their own memory to identify a suspected offender.  ‘Sitting for a portrait’ involved the entire police watch crowding round the suspect, staring into his/her face to memorise distinctive features for future reference.  That alone would have put many off a life of crime!

But by the late 1840-50s, commercial photographers had been brought in to provide a rather more reliable service in the form of ‘mugshots’.   In those early days, studio photographer William Eagle was used by Birmingham police, and you can admire his craft from the many collodium plates at the proposed West Midlands Police Museum on Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham’s notorious former Lock Up.  They have a genuine rogues gallery of mugshots on display.

Murderers and thieves were accorded the same careful attention from Mr Eagle, as would a visiting dignitary:  he would pose his ‘clients’, providing a screen behind them and one can imagine him positioning their elbow on a dainty table, next to the elegant pot plant used for his paying customers.  His mugshots even included a gilt frame!

By the time CID officer Charles Muscroft became police photographer at Birmingham Lock Up in the 1930s, things had changed quite a lot.  Yorkshire-born Muscroft relished his new role, delivering regular lectures to local photographic societies and happily offering his portrait services in a private capacity.  So when he was accepted as an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society, you can imagine his pure delight.  He knew the intricate skill – talent, indeed – that was essential to capture scenes of crime accurately and comprehensively, and to produce reliable mugshots for use by police and the courts.  He felt his photography was capturing the truth.

Sergeant Charles Muscroft features in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock Up – which is being performed on site at the Lock Up this July 12/13th and 20th/21st.  Last autumn, the first run quickly sold out and many eager visitors missed out.  So now the museum has recommissioned the event, also inviting attendees to look round the Lock Up after the show.

Other ‘ghosts’ you’ll meet include notorious Brummie drunkard Tommy Tank, pioneering policewoman Evelyn Miles, and world-famous Sarah Bernhardt, the French singer and actress who had to sign the ‘alien register’ at the Lock Up during her UK tour in 1916.

The show is at various times on Friday July 12th & Saturday 13th, and again Saturday 20th & Sunday 21st.   Book your tickets HERE.

References & more information

The Burden of Representation, J. Tagg.  University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Under Arrest  (A History of Twentieth Century in Mugshots), G. Papi.  Granta Books, 2006.

‘Photography as I see it’, Midland Counties Photographic Federation Lecture given by C. Muscroft ARPS, 1939-40.

‘In the Frame: Early Police Photography in Birmingham’, lecture notes from P. James for Birmingham Central Lock Up/Ikon Gallery event March 2018.

Back Behind Bars

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Graeme Rose as Tommy Tank

Following an acclaimed sell-out run last year, I’m delighted to announce that Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up is returning to the infamous Birmingham jail this July. Not only that, but our very own Tim Stimpson will be taking over directing duties from the wonderful Jo Gleave.

It’s the first time all eight Bold Text playwrights have collaborated on a single show. We’ve each taken a character from the building’s past, including Tommy Tank (a notorious and hilarious drunk), Evelyn Miles (one of the UK’s first female police officers) and even Sarah Bernhardt (the world-famous French actress). You can read more below, but if that’s already whetted your appetite you can BOOK YOUR PLACE IN THE CLINK HERE!

Since 1891, tens of thousands of people have passed through Birmingham’s Central Lock-Up on their way to court, prison or even the noose. What brought them to this desperate point in their lives? And what memories have they left behind?

Eight of the region’s leading writers will resurrect the ghosts of The Lock-Up’s past, summoning them back to the cells, stairways and corridors where they once walked. As you move around the building you’ll meet robbers and drunkards, prostitutes and murderers, as well as the policemen and pioneering policewomen who held the keys.

Beware! The past still has lessons to teach us. Those who dare to enter The Lock-Up get taught those lessons well. Feedback from the original shows in 2018 include:

“Fabulous show! Informative and emotional, thought provoking, amazing acting and writing” Audience member

“Sent shivers down my spine several times. Loved it!” Audience member

Duration approximately 1 hour with a chance to look round and visit the shop after. Not suitable for children under the age of 12.

Please be advised the Lock-Up is an old building and is not suitable for visitors with mobility issues. Flat shoes are advised and no short skirts . Pictures may be taken during the shows for publicity purposes. There will be some chairs in each area but the show mainly consists of standing for short performances and moving around the building.

Sentence complete

Sentence complete

BOLDtext’s first all-female Open Door – three writers, two actors and a director – arrived at The REP stage door on a frosty January morning, tasked with producing an evening of thoughtful and engaging theatre in a single day.  We knew from previous shows that we had an intense and demanding ten hours ahead of us.

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Sentencing for the Future

Sentencing for the Future

BOLDtext Playwrights are delighted to announce the panel for their audience discussion, ‘Sentencing for the Future’, which follows their latest show, The Sentence, three brand new short plays at Birmingham REP on Monday 28 January 8pm.

Paying the Price by Liz John
A disgraced surgeon awaits sentencing, when a young solicitor arrives with unexpected news.

Offences Against the Person by Vanessa Oakes
Why do sentences sometime bemuse and enrage the public?

Working Mother by Julia Wright
Karen will soon be leaving prison. Has she learned her lesson? Sophie tries to help her but is it working?

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See you in 2019 for ‘The Sentence’

It’s been quite a year for BOLDtext Playwrights with our first ever site-specific show Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up selling out this autumn. Thank you to everyone who came and gave their support.

Our fascination with crime and punishment continues with The Sentence, three new hard-hitting short plays from some of region’s foremost writers – Liz John, Vanessa Oakes and Julia Wright on Monday 28th January 2019 @ The REP.

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