The Letter Cloth: Sensory Modes of the Epistolary in Prison Theatre Practice

McPhee, Molly. 2023. The Letter Cloth: Sensory Modes of the Epistolary in Prison Theatre Practice. Humanities, 12, 139. ISSN 2076-0787 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In this article, I explore performances of letter writing within the archives of the London- based theatre company Clean Break, who work with justice-experienced women and women at risk. Clean Break’s archive at the Bishopsgate Institute in London contains an extensive collection of production ephemera and letters. Charting the company’s development across forty years of theatre productions, public advocacy, and work in prisons and community settings, these materials of the archive—strategic documents, annotated playscripts and rehearsal notes, production photography and correspondence—reveal the acute importance of the letter to people living on the immediate borderlands of the prison. Despite these generative resonances, however, the epistolary form is very rarely used in Clean Break’s theatre: as the archive reveals, since the company was founded by two women in HM Prison Askham Grange in 1979, stagings of letters have occurred in only a handful of instances. In this archival exploration of the epistolary in three works by Clean Break—a film broadcast by the BBC, a play staged at the Royal Court, and a circular chain-play written by women in three prisons—I investigate what lifeworlds beyond prison epistolary forms in performance propose.

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Additional Information:

This research was developed through the UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project ‘Clean Break: Women, Theatre, Organisation and the Criminal Justice System’ (AHRC/S011951).


performance studies; prison literature; prison theatre; abolition; carceral geography; epistolary form

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


23 November 2023Accepted
28 November 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

28 Nov 2023 15:24

Last Modified:

28 Nov 2023 15:24

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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