I personally blame Porridge. Their cute array of loveable rogues. Fletcher. Godber. Even the bad guy, Harry Grout, is played with a sentimental kitsch that has the audience guffawing in sentimentality. In fact there’s a whole host of dramas that give prison life a bit of sappy saccharine schmaltz. Think Shawshank Redemption. Green Mile. Heck, even Midnight Express is packed with maudlin idealism. So, when the Jumper Factory comes along, a play about what it really is like to be inside prison, it shatters our dewy-eyed illusions.
Currently playing at HOME Manchester, Jumper Factory was conceived By Young Vic Taking Part and Justin Audibert. In collaboration with inmates at HMP Wandsworth and written by Luke Barnes, it weaves a story derived from the various testimonies of people behind bars. The cast is seven adults, sat in the middle of the stage and they remind us that it is the words that are important. They are merely actors bringing to life the words that belong to real individuals that have served time behind bars.
Luke Barnes uses the cast well to tell a variety of stories with a single thread. It’s cleverly constructed and cleverly acted out, using the talents of all the actors on stage, playing sometimes the same character, sometimes all sharing the spotlight and sometimes playing it for what it is.
There is also much mirth and hilarity at times. Call it gallows humour. Yes, Barnes has written something that does not romanticise prison life, but at the same time, his wry sense of observation brings out the tragic comedy of events.
As much as words matter, so do the performances. Yes, these are nameless actors on stage reading the words that belong to someone else. But they do so with a deep found respect to the meanings of those words. There are some notable performances that showcase an array of emotions, that do justice to the writing of Barnes and make the story that is being told believable!
The Jumper Factory is a short, sharp, bittersweet dive into the world behind bars. Perhaps too short, given that it lasts a trifling three quarters of an hour. It feels constricted by design. The story a little too rushed. The performances suffocating to the beat of that drum. All the while, The Jumper Factory has the makings of a play that could form one that has a little more substance if had the chance to explore the themes it raises so eloquently.