Cardboard coffins and cake
ONE chap sits in a cardboard coffin painted with stars and clouds, others crowd around the cast of Colder than Here asking if there are such places as woodland burial grounds while eating cake and sipping tea. It is rather surreal.

Sturminster Newton Amateur Dramatic Society's spin-off company Taboo has just finished performing young playwright Laura Wade's play about death and dying to prisoners at Guys Marsh Prison - it is also a cast member's birthday (hence the cake).

Producer Judith Pidgeon of The Martinsey Isle Trust explains that there are many natural burial grounds in the country that are a far cry from the often morbid, clinical funerals associated with crematoriums.

Conversation turns to personal experiences.

One inmate speaks of his loss. His partner, just 24, died of cancer. Everyone nods in agreement at the tragedy of a short life.

Another man has already spoken out about the recent death of his mother from this terrible disease.

This openness and discussion is exactly what The Martinsey Isle Trust (co-founded by Judith Pidgeon and David Wasley), prison staff and the performers were hoping for when they decided to stage the production within the prison walls. "One in three people know someone who has suffered from cancer", says Linda Cowley, who plays Myra Bradley, the one dying of bone cancer.

A SNADS regular, who usually appears on stage in pantomime or comedy, Linda gives an exceptional performance as a woman whose life is ebbing away. By the close of the play tears had formed in Linda's eyes, not for her challenging subject, it seemed, but because the 50-strong audience in the prison chapel had responded with such powerful applause - they had appreciated it. The play is about a family coping with cancer. Mother Myra may be the one suffering the illness but her husband and two daughters are affected by the sickness in their own ways. Death becomes something that can be talked about - after all when there is a flat-pack cardboard coffin that needs assembling in the living room there is no avoiding the subject.

We thought the play would be ideal, because apart from the death it is about family, a dysfunctional family that finds it hard to communicate. This is very relevant in a prisoner's life, how they can't communicate with their families.

Head of activities at the prison, Liz Kannangara said staff had been particularly keen to get inmates who were fathers to see the production because of how it addressed family issues. Prison governor Susie Richardson said: "It is difficult to measure just how much this affected individuals, but it has brought the subject into the open and has got them talking about it." Director Craig White adds:

"I hope it's given them some-thing to go away with, to think about. It is a thought-provoking play about relationships and death, but also about how people can change.

"All the characters change in the play. It could give some stimulus to the inmates. We are all part of this local community and the prison is part of it too." It was Taboo's fifth performance of Colder than Here for The Martinsey Isle Trust, which debuted at Child Okeford and has been performed at Springhead, Fontmell Magna. There are chances to catch it at Glastonbury in May as the next part of its planned countrywide tour, and it is hoped Taboo will confront other difficult subjects in forthcoming projects.

Report and picture: Rosanna Holmes
A slightly edited version of article dated Friday 16th March 2007 of the Blackmore Vale Magazine

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Waterfall, Brecon Beacons
Batsford Arboretum, Cotswolds

The Martinsey Isle Trust and the Glaston Rose Humane Company Creating an idyll of Martinsey and Lidney Islands Natural Burial honouring life's sacred thresholds
The Martinsey Isle Trust was co-founded in 2002 by David Wasley, its inspiration, and Judith Pidgeon, its grounder

The Martinsey Isle Trust - Ivy Cottage - Bath Road - Sturminster Newton - Dorset - DT10 1DU - UK - Telephone: 01258 475 125
Registered Charity Number : 1135600
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