In an isolated old castle where nothing changes, a young man longs to break free from the tired structure.
It’s a situation inmates-turned-actors at William Head Institution can surely relate to as they get into character for their production of Gormenghast, opening tonight at the penitentiary.
The fantasy classic, based on a trilogy of novels by Mervyn Peake and adapted for stage by John Constable, follows Titus Groan, a young king who secretly wants to leave Gormenghast castle, and a kitchen boy named Steerpike, who would gladly overthrow him.
Intrepid Theatre’s Ian Case is directing the cast of nine inmates and three local actresses. He’d been holding onto a copy of the script, which a co-worker found for him in a bargain bin, eager for a chance to use it.
“The guys got right into it. We did casting and they got their lines in August, and when we started rehearsals in September they were completely off book,” said Case, who in previous years directed Elephant Man, Macbeth and Waiting for Godot at the prison.
Ingrid Hansen directed and acted in CHALK at William Head last year and returns to the prison stage in the role of Fuchsia Groan, Titus’s wild sister and Steerpike’s lover.
“I kept telling the guys they’re making us (actresses) look bad because we were still reading off the page and we’re supposed to be the professionals,” Hansen laughed.
Indeed, the William Head on Stage theatre company has much to boast about. Run completely by inmates, it’s in its 30th year and on its 50th production – the company used to put on shows twice a year, back when offenders were bused downtown for performances.
Still, the group runs without the support of any grants or external funding. The company relies on its box office sales to fund future productions.
Case says theatre fits well with the prison’s role of rehabilitating offenders to function in society.
“It teaches them to work together and trust each other,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see how they do that throughout the course of rehearsals.”
Hansen, who keeps in touch with some of last year’s actors who have since been released, said she was told by one man that before acting, he never thought he could be good at anything besides crime.
“When people come up to them after the show and tell them they did a great job night after night, they slowly start to believe it, and their barriers come down,” Hansen said.
Gormenghast opens tonight (Oct. 14) with a 7:30 p.m. show. Subsequent performances are Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 12, with Thursday shows scheduled for Nov. 3 and 10 at William Head Institution, 6000 William Head Rd. in Metchosin.
Tickets are $20 and must be purchased in advance at My Chosen Cafe, 4480 Happy Valley Rd., online through www.ticketrocket.org or by phone at 250-383-2663.
Patrons must be 19 or over and must pass through a security check. The gates open 6 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. show. No latecomers will be admitted.