Sitting on an old bus, after I’d been sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter, trying desperately not to catch the prison warden’s eye in case he turned his insults on me, was not how I usually like to spend my Sundays.
When I had bought tickets for Future Cinema’s ‘Live Cinema’ Experience I had no idea what I had let myself in for. All I knew was that we would get to see The Shawshank Redemption in a setting that would make the film ‘leap off the screen’.
As we arrived at the prison (which was actually a converted building in Mile End) I began to realise how far Future Cinema would go in creating an authentic experience…and how much I really didn’t want to feel like a character in Shawshank! After being given a time limit to strip down to the long johns and vests we had been told to wear, we were made to walk bare foot through the showers and outside before changing into our inmate uniforms in our cells.
Thinking the worst was over, I started laughing and joking with my boyfriend about the huge trousers I had managed to pick up. Before I knew what was happening the prison officer came into our cell, grabbed my boyfriend by the scruff of his jacket and dragged him off to another cell. At that point, I really started to wonder why I had paid £43 for a ticket.
But before my spirit could be completely broken, somebody shouted across the crowds to introduce himself and to say that he was going to get us all “fed and liquored up”. A party atmosphere erupted throughout the hall and beer and hot dogs were passed round. Whiskey was served, not by the glass, but by the mouthful.After witnessing a fellow ‘prisoner’ being beaten up for wanting to leave (there were a few actors planted in our cells), we were led down to dinner. Trying to keep my head down, I accepted the cold beans that were slopped onto my dinner tray and tried not to look too interested when somebody came through the doors shouting for the prison warden to follow him. I had well and truly submitted to my place in prison life.
After we had eaten and drank as much as we could handle, we were free to explore the prison at our own pace, trying out different activities and attempting to get enough ‘work’ stamps on our card to sit before the parole board.
Surprises hid behind every door and things were rarely what they seemed. A trip to the library ended with us being asked if we would like a ‘more refreshing book…the latest by Mr. Artois’ and laundry service turned in a group sing-song with jaeger shots for the best folded sheets.
With no clocks to look at, and plenty to keep us entertained, the hours flew by. Soon we were told that somebody had escaped so we had to head into the gymnasium for a prisoner count. The film was put on to ‘keep us occupied’.
Although I had seen The Shawshank Redemption a few times before, watching it after our prisoner experience meant the film took on a whole new meaning. Every single person in the room cheered, clapped or whooped when Andy finally escaped from his cell. A few more ‘live cinema’ touches helped to make the screening completely different to anything I had experienced before.
Once it was all over, it was time to collect our ‘contra-band’ belongings and head back out to the real world. Even as we left, the actors stayed completely in character, with the prison guards either barking orders or congratulating us on our parole as we handed back our prison uniforms. As I left Oakhampton State Penitentiary, I felt a pang of sadness. Clearly, I had been well and truly institutionalised.
The Future Cinema’s Shawshank live cinema experience is running up until the end of February in London. The below video gives a taster of the experience and what’s to be expected.
Think this is your cup of tea? More information and tickets can be found on the Future Cinema’s website by following this link: http://futurecinema.co.uk/Shawshank/tickets.html