William Shakespeare, MEASURE FOR MEASURE
 

It is hard to believe that it was but a day and a half ...

Even a day and a half in Malta.

It was hard to believe it was December ... and that it was but two minutes ... but it was.

This time when I walked into the Corradino Correctional Facility's (CCF) Young Offenders Unit (YOURS) main visits room (where WHEN YOU HEAR MY VOICE will be rehearsed) - it was empty.
 


Without the young offenders (18-21) in the space, life seemed to have been sucked out of it.

I wondered what had happened.

I went out and asked where the guys were. (I was especially concerned as the Director of Communications from the President of Malta’s office and the wonderful Marc Cabourdin - who even now is filming SINDBAD - were with me.)

An officer informed me that the lads wanted to surprise me. (They had already done so by their absence.)

We should just 'sit down' he said.

We did as instructed. .
 

           


Some minutes later - as if to some universal plan - the door opened. I had heard humming outside but now suddenly Scott – one of the two British lads - walked in and he was followed – one by one – by the multi-national others in measured entrances. They seemed to walk in concentric squares - at once joining and passing each other.  Some then knelled down at the back of the room seemingly as if in prayer - while others kept pacing.

 


Shortly thereafter the last four members formed another square. Turning outwards, they stopped before sliding down the room's respective walls in equal unison. Jose covered his face as he squatted. Frank, one of the two Americans, buried his face into his jumper in the centre. Suddenly it seems the humming had stopped.
 

 


Solomon - the boy from Ethiopia - turned his head out towards us and began to speak. He spoke in Amharic. The rhythm of the language fascinated as did his shifts in tone. His large eyes appealed to us, his audience. The boys had used a poem that Mark (the lad from London) had written.  He had been inspired by Shakespeare in one of our sessions in early November. The lads had translated his piece into five different languages and turned it into a two minute theatrical entity THEMSELVES.  They had done so, I was told, for ME.  Rarely have I been so honoured.
 


After Solomon had finished his section, Andrew launched into the Lord's prayer in Maltese (itself a unique combination of Arabic and Italian) while yet more guys simultaneously took up different phrases from Mark's verse in their own native tongues. As these were being additionally underscored by Manuel singing fragments from the Maltese national anthem, the most extraordinary physical life suddenly broke out.
 

 

Frank rising appeared to be pushed over by Paco (the lad from Portugal) and was caught by Jose (his friend from the Bronx).  Ernesto (a Spanish boy who has learned to speak English in but a month in order to take part in this project) turned to Paco with arms outstretched appealing for peace in Spanish. Aulis briefly stormed in Estonian before turning and shaking Jose's hand with such a keen theatrical intensity that it demanded respect.
 

         
 
       

I, myself, wondered what Aulis was going to do. In that moment he could just as easily have struck Jose in the stomach or across his face as shook his hand. The theatrical tension was ripe.  Scott (a proud Geordie) now sliced his arms in the air from atop his lofty pose upon a stack of plastic chairs. 'SILENCE' he demanded. Suddenly all was still. A brief pause ensued. They had earned their silence.  They had made it speak.
 


From this point onwards all words spoken would be in English and whole. The words themselves would do the walking/fighting.  Of necessity they would speak for themselves.  Frank - in measured tones from his place on the floor - spoke the first part of Mark's verse telling of how any of us might fall.
 


The concluding focus shifted to the author himself, to Mark, who sat prone on the floor beside a barred window. He stared out at us: 'My fellow prisoners' he implored.  He asked simply that we listen. 

The rest, as the Bard might say, WAS silence.

It was a silence ANYONE could - and I'm confident would - understand.

There was no question but that it was full.

It was full and LOUD.


Marika (from the President's office and an actress herself) was in tears. She told me afterwards how much the President was looking forward to seeing the production.

I, myself, have to confess to being incredibly moved by what the lads did. Why? Well, perhaps because I just had not expected it. They would do this very brief - two minute - piece again four more times at different intervals over the next 24 hours in front of various distinguished visitors. ALL were impressed. I decided then and there that it would - no, rightly SHOULD - frame the opening to our theatrical enterprise in February.

Marc Cabourdin, who had gone into work with the guys while I'd been away turned to me later that evening at the beautiful St. James Cavalier Theatre (where we will do our production) and said (and please don't take this in the wrong fashion): 'I'm in love with these guys'.

But - again - why?

Well, perhaps - as is so often the case within such 'institutional' environments - it's because what these lads are doing is just SO important TO THEM.  For them this is NEVER 'just a play'.  For them THIS is FREEDOM.  For them this becomes LIFE AND DEATH.  For them - at the very least - this is a matter of extremes.  For them, extremity IS the point much as it must have been for Shakespeare himself.  For them that extremity permits the relative luxury of a mirror to be held up to their own nature. 

The vast majority of audiences today are, of course, simply not used to seeing THAT kind of commitment.

Somehow I suspect audiences rarely ever were.
 

R B S Wall, LSW Executive Director
December 2011


Mark's poem as scribbled in an exercise book in but a few minutes during an LSW session.
The lads used this as the basis for their performed sequence.