BOLDtext Playwrights had a great day out recently, popping over to see our own Sayan Kent’s latest musical at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre, Maggie May, co-created with Bob Eaton. Set over WW1, it was clever, moving and funny – one minute businessmen sang hilariously about capitalism, and the next, women mourned lost babies with their shawls. Multi-talented 11-strong cast, and the audience loved it. So did we!
BOLDtext Playwrights’ most recent show, Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock Up, went down a storm in Birmingham city centre last month – with sell-out audiences who loved the humorous and heart-wrenching tales we told, as well as the more everyday stories embedded in the WM Police former Lock Up building. It felt like our contrasting voices each captured something different from the space, with wonderful performances to bring them to life. “Emotionally transporting”, ” Very atmospheric – shivers down my spine several times”, and “Really unique experience” were just some of the comments from our many visitors.
In the meantime, BOLDtext is working on another night of political shorts at Birmingham Rep on Monday 28 January 2019, so watch this space.
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Julia Wright writes about one of them…
When we were given the possible choices for characters whose stories we could tell, I chose Maud Dillon, as she seemed at first to be a woman who was caught up in a life of prostitution. I was interested to find out why she might have been involved in that when she was a woman who had a job as a polisher – likely to be a metal polisher who worked in the jewellery industry. Was she desperate for money?
The only information about Maud Dillon is that she was 25 when she was arrested on 5/8/1921 for indecent behaviour. She was given a fine – £4 or 25 days in prison. I then discovered that ‘indecent behaviour’ could range from shouting and swearing in public to soliciting (prostitution). So maybe she was merely shouting and swearing in public? But why? When looking into the work that police women did at the time I found it seemed to contain a lot of what we would now call social work. Young women were picked up from around the station, seeking to meet soldiers and in 1919, 25% of them were under 17. What dreadful lives drove them to that?
In June 1918 a hostel was set up in Dale End to ensure women were in a place of safety from abuse while further enquiries were made to find them work or more permanent lodgings – one of the first hostels in the country. The workhouse was where some women who were abused ended up but was feared by all and women would be separated from their children (children still legally belonged to the father until 1925 so it was difficult for many women to leave abusive relationships). For some women the workhouse was better than the abuse at home
Miss Dorothy Peto became a lady enquiry officer with the CID in Birmingham in 1920. She visited homes, investigating indecent assaults and abuse and stated ‘the relief of victims was obvious when they saw a female police officer had come to take their statement.’
I have linked together the work of Dorothy Peto and a possible explanation for Maud Dillon’s arrest to highlight the often appalling abuse that women had to endure, sometimes at the hands of their partners. The disturbed mental conditions of returning soldiers were often not recognised and PTSD was not diagnosed or understood.
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Helen Kelly writes about one of them…
Evelyn Miles was one of the first police women in England, taking up the uniform after her troubled husband was dispatched to Handsworth Asylum. An unwed mother at 18, the housekeeper to a doctor, the wife of a police sergeant suffering from mental illness – my reading of her character is that she was an empathetic person, drawn to Birmingham’s coal face of poverty and social deprivation, like Dorothy Peto after her (also featured in Ghosts of the Lock Up).
With no template or notion of social services, the justice system was society’s last net for lost souls, deeply flawed, maybe, but with a burgeoning complement of compassionate women coming through in the early Twentieth Century, to bring some sense of social responsibility towards those who had been abandoned by society, and lost their way.
I loved it that Evelyn was in her fifties when she embarked on her new life (hope for us all) and still holds the record for the oldest serving female officer in the West Midlands aged 77 when she retired.
You can meet Evelyn and many other fascinating characters in BEHIND BARS: Ghosts of the Lock-Up 19th – 21st October.
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Stephen Jackson writes about one of them…
No high heels, no short skirts – that’s the advice for anyone coming to our next show. Why? Because it takes place in a jail and our audience will have to negotiate the walkways and spiral staircases of Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up – three floors of echoing prison cells and clanging doors.
It’s a fantastic venue for a theatrical experience. Its shadows are full of ghosts. Incredibly, this nineteenth-century prison was in use until just recently, but we have gone back a hundred years to look at some of its legendary prisoners and staff.
When I saw the list of characters, there was only one I wanted to write about: Thomas Larvin – one of the Lock-Up’s craziest inmates. Arrested countless times for drunkenness, he became best known by his nickname Tommy Tank – a reference to his enormous capacity for drink.
A fishmonger and street hawker, Tommy was also a joker and a prankster who would do anything for a bet – especially if booze was involved. Apparently he once walked backwards from Deritend to Stonebridge with a brick on his head to win a bet for copious amounts of ale.
On other occasions he was known to bite the heads off rats to earn himself a drink. Tommy was a colourful character around town. Unfortunately, his drinking led to skirmishes with pub landlords, broken windows and overnight stays in the Lock-Up before his frequent appearances in court the next morning.
If you’d like to meet Tommy and other ghosts of the Lock-Up, remember not to wear your high heels. It should be a great show in a great venue. It would be a crime to miss it.
Follow this link to book your tickets now:
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Vanessa Oakes writes about one of them…
I’ve been writing about a murder.
A murder involving two real life Peaky Blinders, a spinster and a pair of false teeth.
On 25th October, 1898, at the age of 23, James Twitty broke into Miss Aliban’s house with his accomplice Mumby:
we only meant to gag her… not frighten her to death… i even sang to her to help calm her down.
They had planned to rob her – Mary Ann Aliban (age 60) had a number of rental properties in Birmingham and was well known in the neighbourhood for carrying a large amount of money around in her carpet bag:
all the neighbours heard her… clink… clink… as she walked… clink… clink… clink… as she sat counting her coins of a night… she’d even ask people to feel the weight of her bag… she was asking for it.
Twitty and Mumby gained entry through the cellar (it was reported that Twitty had previously worked for a coal merchant) and waited for her return. They then took their boots off and crept upstairs to search the house – she was asleep by the time they reached her bedroom but on waking began to scream.
They quickly tied her to the bed and gagged her with a silk handkerchief. They then grabbed a small amount of money nearby and left. The robbery was a failure – the police later found £108 hidden in the house.
Tragically Mary died having swallowed her false teeth:
how was we to know she’d swallow her false teeth… who wears their snaggs to bed?!
Having read all the sensational newspaper reports from the period I felt strongly that I wanted my short play to remember what happened to Mary and to provide some small sort of retribution. She must have been terrified as she choked to death. Too often we remember the names of the criminals and forget their victims.
Originally charged with murder Twitty and Mumby’s sentences were eventually commuted to penal servitude for life. In 1915 Twitty was declared insane and moved to Broadmoor, where he died mute, aged 73.
You can meet Twitty as well as a host of other characters from the Lock-Up’s past in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock-Up.
Follow this link to book your ticket/s now: https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Nicola Jones writes about one of them…
“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses – and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” Mark Twain
It came as quite a surprise to discover that the renowned French actress Sarah Bernhardt – at the time considered the most famous actress in the world – had been amongst the residents of the Lock-Up.
Appearing at The Grand Theatre in Corporation Street in 1916, Sarah, as a foreigner, was required by law to attend Steelhouse Lane to sign the ‘Aliens Register’ where the record describes her as being: “5ft 4in, of medium build, minus her right leg.”
She’d had her leg amputated in 1915 after suffering ten years of acute pain resulting from an injury sustained on a tour of South Africa. When gangrene set in, she demanded that the leg be removed – something her surgeons were reluctant to do as they didn’t want to be the doctor who killed the great Sarah Bernhardt! She eventually got her way, and refused to let her disability stop her performing, stating that she’d ‘strap herself to the scenery if need be.’ She continued touring Europe and the USA (crossing the Atlantic despite the ever-present threat of U-boat attack), as well as performing to French troops at the Western Front.
Sarah Bernhardt was a true eccentric who, like P.T. Barnum, understood the value of a good story. She travelled with a satin lined coffin (which she claimed to sleep in), dressed in exotic clothes & furs (she had a hat made from a stuffed bat), and owned a menagerie containing tigers, lions, cheetahs, as well as a puma which roamed freely around her home. She also owned a pet alligator which she said shared her bed (until it reportedly died from an overindulgence of champagne). She was also well-known for her string of lovers which included all her leading men, many well-known writers and artists, plus European royalty including – allegedly – our very own Prince of Wales (who went on to become Edward VII.)
Sarah was also unusual in that she decided to manage her own career. With the help of the British impresario Edward Jarrett, she toured the world several times – with her 1891 tour of Europe, Russia, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Samoa reportedly earning her 3.5 million francs.
She went through several fortunes during her lifetime, investing in two theatres, supporting her large entourage, repeatedly paying off the gambling debts of her illegitimate son Maurice, as well as being incredibly generous to those she loved by showering them with lavish gifts and property. When she ran out of money, she simply went back on tour!
When she died in 1923, aged 79, half a million people lined the Paris streets to watch her funeral. Her death was front page news around the world and, as ‘The Birmingham Gazette’ reported: “Few foreigners have succeeded in capturing the imagination, and in earning the enthusiastic devotion of the British people, as it fell to her lot to do.”
You can meet Sarah and lots of other characters from the Lock-Up’s past at our next show ‘Behind Bar’, 19th – 21st October 2018. Book at: https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8