Last month I went to go and see Sister Act at Her Majesty’s Prison Bronzefield
This is the third joint prisoners. staff. and Pimlico Opera production I’ve been to, the other two being West Side Story at Winchester and Assassins at Coldingley. All of them have been excellent and very special productions. Of course, all the professional singers are outstanding, but there are always a couple of prisoners who astonish with their ability and you can’t help wondering what might have been if those individuals had been born with another set of luckier cards.
elegant orange pudding
The selection of the work to be performed is key. The slightly less talented and experienced prisoners can carry anything along with just sheer enthusiasm and gusto. I remember in particular the power and humour with which the prisoners at Winchester sang:
“Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!”
and on looking through the biographies of the cast in the programme I could understand why so many of them were singing with such feeling.
Bronzefield is a women’s prison and so Sister Act is another excellent choice since it tells the story of a colourful, larger-then-life gangster’s moll who falls foul of her ex-lover and, with the help of an old schoolfriend/admirer, seeks asylum in a convent. Whoopi Goldberg plays the part in the film of the same name. Although the ‘low life’ is clearly played with relish by the cast, so are the nuns, and there were some really cracking cameo parts, in particular the very old and the very young nuns. It was very apparent just how much of a personal achievement the whole production was for everyone involved, and watching it was quite an emotional experience (others also felt the same). For a couple of magical hours the baggage, past and future, of everyone in the room is held to the side, and what is happening on stage is the focus of every individual. It gives a whole different meaning to ‘audience participation’.
There are of course, strict procedures for entering the prison and there is no interval in the performance, but while waiting to be moved through to our seats, we were offered lemon and orange drizzle cake made by the inmates. Both were good, but the orange was the best, and below I give my attempt to replicate it. The cake can be kept in an airtight tin for about five days, and even frozen.
- 100g (just under half a cup) melted butter
make holes with a skewer and drizzle in the drizzle
- 160 ml (just under ¾ cup) double cream
- 250g/1¼ cups) caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 250g (1½ cups)self raising flour (or 250g plain and 2 teasp bicarbonate of soda)
- finely grated zest of one orange (keep a little back for garnishing)
- juice of one orange (100ml/just under half a cup)
- 25g/1 oz/2tbsp caster sugar
- 150ml/just over ½ cup blood orange juice
- 75ml/just over ¼ cup Cointreau
- 200ml tub/just over ¾ cup crème fraiche
- preheat the oven to 180ºC
- beat the butter, cream and sugar together
- add the eggs, one at a time, beat
- sift in flour
- add zest
- spoon into a greased loaf tin
- bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and bake a further 25 minutes
- turn out and leave to cool
- make holes with a skewer and pour in the internal drizzle
- serve with the crème fraiche, and the sauce in a jug for people to help themselves.
One of the greatest problems for prisoners is boredom. Theatrical projects such as the Pimlico Opera productions help, as do the needlework produced by Fine Cell Work (go here for a fantastic fish cushion or here for The Big Ronnie – the largest of a range of chopping boards made by Rough Stuff)
wonderful fish cushion
the big ronnie – fantastic chopping board