Thursday, 29 May 2014

Who's Afraid of the Big Bar-L?

On Sunday an interesting new play has its public premiere at Oran Mor as part of Glasgow’s WestEnd Festival. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bar-L is a humorous look at the history of Glasgow’s most famous ‘Big Hoose’, written by well-known writer and director, Philip Differ, and commissioned by retiring Barlinnie Governor, Derek McGill
He has seized the opportunity created by a major turning point in the big prison’s history to commission the play to mark the prominent place Barlinnie has played in the folklore of Glasgow and Scotland over the last 100 plus years!
Barlinnie's Derek McGill

While this may seem unusual, it is entirely appropriate now for two reasons according to Derek, who has been a long-term promoter of arts, music and drama as alternative therapies and interventions to help prisoners desist from crime and change their ways..
“I have spent my time in the prison system investing in creative methods to help prisoners address their offending.” He said, “There is a lot of evidence especially from Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, that this approach can reduce re-offending.”
In addition, the future of Barlinnie is currently under discussion. Reports have highlighted that the prison, built in 1882, is no longer fit for purpose. It would need significant expenditure to meet modern demands on prison life. The two options being discussed are major refurbishment, or closure and building a new prison on a different site.
There is much debate over Barlinnie’s future.“ Derek said,  “Closure or major refurbishment are both possible outcomes, so I thought that now was a good time to look at the Bar-L and its place in Glasgow’s popular culture.”
Not content with just commissioning a play, he asked leading Glasgow-based arts production company, FairPley, to produce the play and they got well-known Scottish comedy writer and producer, Philip Differ - famous for Naked Video and Watson’s Wind-up - to write and direct it!
You can hear both Derek and Philip discuss the play and Sunday’s performance on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland - here. The interview is 2hr and 36 mins in (at the end).
Philip said “My main concern - and the cast's too - was that the play would be authentic, that the
Philip Differ
prisoners would connect with it. After every performance we held a Q and A session with the audience and every time we were asked if any of us had 'done time'. The prisoners seemed genuinely surprised none of us had because the play was, as they put it, 'bang on'. That told us we'd hit the mark and was as rewarding for all of us as the laughs throughout the performances”.
The play is set in the future – in the London offices of Gin ‘n Tonic productions – where a former inmate of the now defunct Barlinnie, and a former prison officer, meet to discuss its history. Is G‘nT the best choice to produce the history of the Bar-L? As you might expect with a writer of Philip Differ’s pedigree, the play crackles with humour.
After a successful tour of its 'captive audience' in four of Scotland's toughest jails, it is now showing to the general public in a one-off performance in Glasgow's Oran Mor on Sunday June 1 at 7.30pm. Tickets over the bar or via this link.

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