A blog from Chris Bartter, trade union writer and communications expert in Scotland,
This blog is a small contribution in opposition to the right-wing consensus in the media, and will. hopefully, campaign for working people and public services.
Any comments on this blog to firstname.lastname@example.org please.
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
“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
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
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