Prison drama teacher plays a director staging a drama workshop in a French jail
PUBLISHED: 10:35 05 April 2019
Che Walker both directs and stars in Intra Muros at Park Theatre which asks what’s the point of theatre anyway?
Actor and playwright Che Walker has taught in prisons and worked with ex offenders.
His actress mum Ann Mitchell did the same and is a patron of theatre company Clean Break which works with women in the criminal justice system. So when he was asked to play a director running a theatre class in a maximum security jail, it struck a chord.
“My mother used to teach drama in Holloway prison so it has been a part of my consciousness for years,” says the Gospel Oak resident.
“It can be extremely useful for an incarcerated human being to find ways of telling stories - to help you make sense of your life and understand the decisions you have made, good and bad.”
Walker, who grew up in Somers Town, plays ageing actor Richard in French writer Alexis Michalik’s Intra Muros at Park Theatre.
When only two inmates turn up, he runs the workshop anyway, along with Alice, an inexperienced social worker, and his ex-wife.
Walker says the play, which has elements of dark comedy and fantasy, is about why we act and tell stories through theatre.
“I saw it in Paris and I was completely blown away,” he says.
“It’s a play about family, how powerful stories can be, and what is the use of theatre.”
Walker also directs, which is “a lot of work but huge fun”.
“The human volume of it is enormous, it’s extremely funny in places and very moving. It runs the gamut of character as well as emotions. There is grief, joy. It’s heightened, poetic, and moves around in time and space, but the situations are very real. There’s a certain dreamlike quality as the play advances and becomes more about making stuff up. It becomes more like a fable.”
Richard’s belief that he’s there to somehow civilise his students gives way to getting “a lot more than he bargained for” and being “thrown a few bombs”.
“He’s had some early success but it has’t quite worked out for him. He’s a bit vain but actually pretty good at his job and it rewakens something in his humanity. He realises that there is more than the bubble of a career in theatre.”
Jazz performer Rio Kai plays live on stage which Walker says lends an “emotional depth”.
“He’s very much the sixth character and he’s sensitive to the dynamics of scenes.”
Walker has written plays for the Young Vic, Royal Court and Globe Theatres, with his play Been So Long made into a Netflix film last year. He went to Gospel Oak and Acland Burghley Schools where inspirational drama teachers included Celia Greenwood, the founder of youth arts charity WAC Arts where he now teaches.
“My first steps towards an acting career were at WAC arts which remains a rich standard of a creative supportive empowered atmosphere.”
Intra Muros runs from April 3-29 parktheatre.co.uk