Cell Outs

Nov 25 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Searing

Traverse: Thu 24 – Sat 26 Nov 2022
Review by Allan Wilson

Cell Outs from Glasshouse Theatre follows two young, idealistic graduates who join a training scheme offering a postgraduate qualification and work experience in rehabilitation, hoping to have a positive impact and make a real change to the lives of prisoners.

Writers and performers Ella Church and Harriet Troup use their experience of two years working as prison officers on the scheme to give a searing indictment of the prison system.

A scene from Cell Out. Pic: Glasshouse Theatre

Any illusions Church and Troup have about a focus on rehabilitation in their work are quickly dispelled. Their first training session involves the use of shields to control prisoners. It is made clear that their first duty is to themselves and to their fellow prison officers and that career progress will depend less on their brains and more on their life experiences.

In addition to scenes showing Church and Troup’s personal experiences, the piece uses recorded interviews from other participants in the training scheme and prison officers, reminding that the problems of overcrowding, understaffing, burnout and brutalisation are endemic to the prison system.

Church and Troup quickly have to adapt to a culture where violence, drugs, misogyny, racism, self-harm and mental health issues are rife. They have to learn to conform to the standards set by their seniors, laughing at inappropriate jokes.


Participants on the scheme have occasional training sessions, where concerns and feelings of disillusionment are shared. They come to regard themselves as being “lambs to the slaughter” and wonder whether brutalisation within the system, such as the use of forced strip searches and intimate inspections, could be criminal.

A scene from Cell Out. Pic: Glasshouse Theatre

“Don’t you think it’s pretty f**ked that a lot of the stuff we do in the prison, like if we were to do it in the street, we’d get arrested straight off?” they ask. The degree to which the system corrupts the staff is illustrated by the revelation that 12 of the 50 graduates on the scheme were dismissed for some form of misconduct.

There are times when the play can be hard to watch but, under Grace Church’s direction and with dramaturgy from Laura Asare, the tone is lightened with frequent use of humour, interspersed with songs combining familiar tunes with lyrics adapted to the subject. One particularly funny number puts a list of prison slang set to the tune of The Sound of Music’s Doh-Ray-Me.

Church and Troup have both left the prison service and are now able to reflect on the traumas of their prison experiences. This powerful and gripping play has helped them come to terms with their experiences and shines a light on the massive problems facing staff and inmates within the prison system.

Running Time: One hour and 20 minutes (no interval).
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Thursday 24 – Saturday 26 November 2022
Evenings: 8pm (Traverse 2)
Tickets and details: Book here.
All performances are captioned.


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