Eve and Elin are theatre-makers from Leeds and Manchester who have been working together since they met at the University of Sheffield in 2013. It was there that they established Footprint Theatre, an award-winning, small-scale touring company. 'Screwdriver' is their first collaboration as writers.
Last year, Screwdriver was awarded the first ever Bill Cashmore Award at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre - set up by friends and family of Bill, in memory of the local actor, director, playwright and business-owner. Since May 2019, we've been developing the initial idea at the Lyric with the support of all the lovely team there.
We first scratched Screwdriver at the Lyric's Evolution festival 2019, when it was only 10 minutes long. Now, the full-length show is premiering at the theatre studio, headlining Evolution festival - where it all started!
Screwdriver is a dark, comic new play that follows an officer called Nicole who works in a women's prison. The show looks at power and privilege and aims to challenge perceptions of the people living and working in the system.
When we began our research, we immediately noticed the two-dimensional image of prison that was sold to the public time and time again, with inmates portrayed as uncontrollably violent and the officers as lazy and inept. We wanted to talk to people with lived experience of that world, so we started to interview friends and acquaintances who worked as prison officers, probation workers, mediators and more.
The people we knew and had connections to were often people who inhabited positions of power in that space - a fact that reinforced our own privilege regarding incarceration. We also wanted to talk to inmates, those whose voices are continually omitted from the conversation about the criminal justice system.
We got in touch with charities such as Kahaila, Prison Reform Trust, Working Chance and The Clink Charity (where we also had a delicious breakfast in the grounds of HMP Brixton - highly recommend it, apparently the roast is great too), who suggested contacts and further avenues to explore.
Throughout our research process, all the individuals we met painted a much more diverse, human, sometimes funny and often emotional experience of prison than most TV depictions and newspaper headlines would have you believe - something we hope comes across in the show.
Like most emerging theatre-makers, we are very used to making work on a shoestring. We're not unfamiliar with a £10 design budget in the basement of an old building. We often simultaneously wear producer, stage manager, writer, production manager, director and performer hats. We are all too aware of both the cost and the competitive nature of drama schools and how difficult it is to break into the industry without that training.
For us, this award has been a huge step change because it's allowed us the time to dedicate ourselves to one discipline at a time, and enabled us to get artists on board who have a particular skillset that we've learnt from. We've been welcomed into the Lyric building and given access to every department, from production to press. We've had dramaturgical support from the Lyric's Artistic Director, Rachel O'Riordan, and been given tickets to press nights for Lyric productions, as well as advice on what to do next.
The Bill Cashmore Award has given us the time and space to research and create - and, above all, it's given us the confidence to keep making work when accessible routes into this industry often feel few and far between.
Screwdriver headlined Evolution Festival at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in February 2020. For more information about the show, please click here.