Amy Willshire/ August 23, 2019/ All posts/ 0 comments

Reality TV is a guilty pleasure for many of us. Love Island, Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity – the idea of watching other people navigate life in a confined space is a big rating hit. Who is being genuine? Who will fall in love? Who will fight? Will they fail the task? Who will you vote for? This is the setting for the Jailer’s Daughter.

The story is inspired by Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare and Fletcher; Prince Palamon is sent to jail where he is eventually freed by the unnamed “Jailer’s Daughter”.

“Shakespeare and Love island work better together than one might think. Strong characters, political drama and some pantomime worthy villains are a few things they both share. Shakespeare isn’t meant to live in dusty books only enjoyed by the elite. It’s meant to be current, alive and binge-worthy; Entertainment for the masses”

Sarah Fox (Director) in The Jailer’s Daughter programme

Not the best known play, Two Noble Kinsmen is fairly well known in acting worlds for a particular audition friendly monologue where the teenage Jailer’s Daughter considers her mixed feelings for this handsome prince

“Why should I love this gentleman? ’Tis odds
He never will affect me. I am base,
My father the mean keeper of his prison,
And he a prince. To marry him is hopeless;
To be his whore is witless. Out upon’t!
What pushes are we wenches driven to,
When fifteen once has found us!”

(Act 2 Scene 4 ).

The writer, Esther, takes Julia from this 17th Century setting, and relocates her, and Prince Palamon, into a 21st Century reality TV show Jail called “The Lock-up”. Celebrities who fall foul of the law, be that for minor misdemeanours like drinking on the street, or more serious crimes like arson and attempted murder, are offered the chance to serve their sentence in this televised jail. The pros – the possibility to increase their D list celebrity while inside, and living conditions which are “better than the national average”. The cons, constant tasks with sadistic punishments designed to test their mental strength.

“Rule 1. Contestants are always provided with enough food and drink to replenish them, but supplies are almost always rationed unless a contestant has completed a task and in doing so, earnt themselves a reward.
Rule 2. Rewards are given out upon the completion of a task. Examples of rewards include: a romantic date. A three course meal of the contestants choosing. Clean clothes. A makeover. A four pack of 3 litre water bottles. New shoes. And on rare occasions, a 5 minute phone call with a relative or loved one. Rewards are chosen by the Jailer.
Rule 3. Where possible, contestants must be coupled-up with a member of the opposite sex. Failure to couple up will result in penalties. Each couple is responsible for each other. Any reward one receives, the other also benefits form, likewise if a contestant receives a punishment, this may also affect their partner. Bonus rewards can be earned by achieving ‘couple-goals’ which are set by the Jailer. If there is an odd number of contestants, the singleton will be exempt from all rewards until they re-couple.
Rule 4. The Jailer oversees the entire show, and when setting a new task or distributing a reward, will communicate with contestants via the intercom. If a contestant fails a task, the Jailer will set them an appropriate punishment. Examples of punishments are: removal of previously given rewards, destruction of a precious item, a controlled electric shock, removal of all food sources for 7 days (also known as the crash diet), removal of contestants hair, removal of contestants clothes, solitary confinement, for up to 30 days”

William explains the rules of The Lock-Up to Julia in the Jailers Daughter by Esther Mackay

Public Voting and Punishment

No reality TV show would be complete without viewer voting, so each audience member is handed a voting pad with red and green choices. At four points in the show the audience is asked to vote. Truth or Dare? Hot or Not? Choose a punishment? Should they be evicted? They way they vote impacts on the way the story pans out which means each of the three shows so far has been unique. This also means the audience has to sit with the discomfort of knowing that when the characters experience punishments within the show, this is partially their responsibility.

In the Q&A after the show, Saem Ahmed, who plays William and Wayne in the play, Kira Morsley, who plays Toni and Tina and the writer Esther discussed how the play was based on things that really happen but that nothing so severe could happen in real life because Ofcom would not allow it. This led to a conversation around the ethics of reality TV shows which considered the impact such shows have on the mental health of contestants. Jeremy Kyle and Love Island are two shows which have received media attention after previous participants have committed suicide. We have seen on I’m A Celebrity that the audience votes for contestants to be set challenges involving eating testicles and having poisonous bugs crawl over them. Is it so far away to imagine that the public would vote to be as cruel to a real person?

I think there is an even more prominent real life example of this in the way we actually do vote for prisons. When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister one of his first policy announcements was to keep “dangerous criminals off the streets”.

“At present, there are too many serious violent or sexual offenders who are coming out of prison long before they should.
This cannot go on. I am afraid that as a society we have no choice but to insist on tougher sentencing laws for serious sexual and violent offenders, and for those who carry knives.”

Boris writing in the Mail on Sunday, 11 August 2019

This is the latest version of a popular policy which often attracts votes, Tony Blair wanted to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. The rhetoric from the Prime Ministers’ is not as severe as that from the public where one survey suggested 60% of people were in favour of bringing back the death penalty for child rapists and murderers.

Quite a large amount of evidence suggests that restorative justice, with the aim of rehabilitating criminals, leads to much lower numbers of repeat offences, compared to punitive justice, with the aim of making criminals pay for what they have done. Part of the reason for this may be linked to trauma; 60% of prisoners in UK jails show signs of head injuries which have damaged part of their brain. 49% of people who were “children in care”will spend time in prison.

“Almost the entire prison population has experienced mental health problems or homelessness, suffered abuse or violence as a child, been addicted to drugs, or grown up in care. Prisons have become holding pens for society’s most vulnerable members.”

Mike Snelle, The Independent , Thursday 23 July 2015

This is not the only option; The Swedish penal system has a much greater focus on reform and rehabilitation and much better outcomes of reducing re-offending.

Perhaps part of the appeal of prison as punishment is in a thirst for revenge “an eye for an eye”, and a human tendency to look down on and reject people who are bad or not in our in-group. People often pay more attention to evidence which backs up their idea of themselves, so if you believe you are a good person you will cite evidence of times you helped someone or gave money for charity or followed the rules; you may then discount the times when you were selfish or greedy or broke the rules. To justify our own bad behaviour, perhaps you then compare yourself to someone else, saying “I would never do what they did”.

Within the show, the voting pads temporarily light up to show which way you voted, allowing you to look down the row and compare to how other people voted. This introduces an element of crowd control or group think into the mix; both elements which are likely to encourage individuals to select more punitive options in the voting.

In the play, Julia is a lone voice in calling out the immorality of The Lock-Up, asking for fair treatment, less production manipulation and more human rights. The “prison guard” production crew including her father “The Jailer” see her protest as the hormonal rants of an imbalanced teenager. They believe her passion will wane if she learns to follow authority or finds love or just smiles more “lighten up Julia”. The prisoners are trying to play the game to survive and we the audience-viewers are active participants in what misfortune will be dished up.

This is just a show. But in real life there are Julia voices calling out for justice. How we respond is up to us.

The Jailers Daughter by Esther Mackay of the UnDisposables is playing at the Space Theatre on the Isle of Dogs, London until 24 August 2019.

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