"A kind of eerie sadness" is how theatre director Andrew Flynn recalls the last time he was involved putting on a production of Frank McGuinness's "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me" in prison.
"I was involved with Dramsoc in Mary Immaculate College, and we took the play to Portlaoise - it was 1997, and we performed it for around 50 prisoners, all paramilitaries, and the response was mixed, but around ten were very engaged, including one guy who turned out to be Dessie O'Hare.
“We had some good chats with them but, as we were leaving, one guy asked us what we were doing next, and I said we were going for a few pints, and there was this eerie sadness because we were free to do that and they weren’t so you got some insight into how captivity is a real punishment.”
Flynn is open-minded as to how inmates at Cork Prison will react when he brings the play there this week.
Artistic director with Decadent Theatre Company, Flynn has teamed up with executive producer Gerry Barnes to bring McGuinness's play, inspired by Brian Keenan's experience after being taken hostage in Beirut, to Cork Prison for a workshop on Tuesday as part of a 17-venue nationwide tour.
Starring Diarmuid De Faoite, Dara Devaney and Simon Coury, the play focuses on the plight of Adam, an American doctor; Edward, an Irish journalist; and Michael, an English academic, and how they cope with suddenly being plunged into captivity when they are kidnapped.
Decadent Theatre will stage excerpts from the play for 20 prisoners doing a literature course in the prison's Education Unit taught by James Cronin of Adult Education at UCC, with a focus on texts with a prison theme by, among others, Oscar Wilde, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
The decision to bring 'Someone Who'll Watch over Me' into Cork Prison was achieved with the help of Edel Cunningham, the head of Cork Prison Education Unit, and Tom Shortt, the Irish Prison Education Access Arts development officer.
“There’s a bit of tradition of bringing plays about imprisonment into prisons,” said Shortt “and I’m sure the prison setting, with an audience that knows all about the experience of being in captivity, will really test the production and hopefully the actors will learn and take something from it.
“On the other side, there’s a huge appetite for the arts in prison and Cork Prison has been very much to the fore in embracing all the arts and the prisoners there appreciate some extra experience that breaks the usual routine and we’re hoping the play will resonate with those at the workshop.
“There is serious talent in prison, and by putting people in touch with that talent to realise their potential it can be a positive experience that can set them on the path to a more structured life, one that does not involve re-offending - it’s not an overnight thing, but it can contribute to their rehabilitation,” he said.
Further information on Decadent Theatre's Nationwide Tour of Someone Who'll Watch Over Me can be found here.