Prison expert advises cast of new play

Research informs art: Dr Claire Nee, left, discusses the script for Stitchers with director Gaby Dellal, centre, and playwright Esther Freud

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Dr Nee talks through criminal motivations with two of the actors in rehearsal


A new play Stitchers, by award winning novelist Esther Freud, has been given some criminologist know-how by criminal psychologist Dr Claire Nee.

The play is based on the true story of the criminal justice reformer and founder of Fine Cell Work Lady Anne Tree (played by Sinead Cusack) who spent her life visiting prisons and decided to try to teach the inmates needlecraft.

Dr Nee was asked to comment on the script, attend rehearsals and advise on how accurate and realistic the play’s portrayal was of five hardened criminals learning embroidery under the tutelage of Lade Tree.

Sinead Cusack rehearses teaching needlecraft to an actor portraying a hardened criminal serving life

Stitchers is Esther Freud’s first play. It opened in Jermyn Street Theatre last week and runs until June 23.

Dr Nee said: “There’s a great deal of difference between a potential psychopath and a vulnerable young offender, both in terms of their likely background and how they can be predicted to behave.

“It was highly unusual for me to be asked to advise on the play, and watching the actors in rehearsal is a far cry from working with prisoners, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope my input was helpful in bringing realism to how the actors portray being prisoners.

“That said Esther Freud had spent a lot of time at HMP Wandsworth researching prison life and this really paid off as the script is really convincing. It is a moving portrayal of prison life.

Dr Nee and Sinead Cusack

“All the cast were lovely.”

The cast includes Martin Docherty, Victoria Elizabeth, Trevor Laird, Michael Nardone, Ewan Stewart and Frankie Wilson, and is directed by Gaby Dellal, who won a BAFTA for On a Clear Day.

Gaby said: “I was keen to incorporate criminal psychology into our rehearsal process and Claire was a brilliant asset to the team helping us in our character discussions and opening up an informed dialogue about the inner workings of these prisoners’ thought processes, motives, conflicts and body language.”

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