Created in collaboration with prisoners at HMP Wandsworth and written by Luke Barnes, The Jumper Factory tells a series of stories depicting life behind bars. Taken from interviews with inmates, this short piece uses the authentic voices of these prisoners to relate how it feels to be locked up. Without delving too much into the violence and drug addiction rife in prisons, Barnes’ play instead focuses on one prisoner’s isolation from the outside world. It effectively conveys inmates’ loneliness and boredom, but also the shame they feel about being in jail.
The Jumper Factory is presented by a group of six young actors aged 18-25 whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. Some have family who have been incarcerated, or who work as prison guards, others have been arrested for dealing drugs or chasing a fox. These young men had little acting experience before this, and it is exhilarating to see that their talent and potential has been fully realised through the Young Vic’s Taking Part initiative.
The play is constructed from a combination of monologues and conversations, an amalgamation of voices, where the group of actors relate the stories of actual prison life. They are all incredibly skilled in their delivery, being able to apply a lighthearted humour to a grim subject matter. When describing the things they miss from the outside world, this ranges from family and loved ones, to porn and Lucozade Orange.
The staging is simple, yet effective. With only six chairs, The Jumper Factory relies heavily on technical design. Jess Glaisher’s inspired lighting design is provocative, creating a feeling of isolation through its use of spotlights. Square lights illuminate the floor, forming cells, in which each of the six inmates are confined for 23 hours per day.
When initially entering the theatre, the inmates sit with arms folded, manspreading, and almost intimidating. The media has helped stir up the stereotype of young men in tracksuits being threatening, something increasingly prevalent with the rise in knife crime. However, barriers are broken down, as the inmates are personable, with a relatable humanity.
“We might be prisoners, but we are young people as well”
It is remarkable that within 45 minutes, The Jumper Factory can accurately present how difficult and lonely life inside jail can be. But its true achievement is in delivering an uplifting feeling of hope. The prisoners constantly relate the things that keep them going, the small things that make their sentences feel shorter as they look forward to getting out.
There is no doubt that this is a sugarcoated version of prison life. There are only brief mentions of violence and drug addiction. The full gravity of the prisoners’ actions is never explored. Although their crimes remain ambiguous, there is no thought given to their victims. Unlike 53 Two’s prison drama, The Stretch, this feels a little too tame.
However, The Jumper Factory is a perfectly executed piece of theatre that is engaging, and surprisingly funny. It could benefit from being a little longer, as a 45 minute production feels too short a platform for such an accomplished group of young men.