Not a Séance @ HMP Styal


Welcome to HMP Styal, a women’s prison near Manchester. This was the site of the world premiere of Not a Séance and the first of three performances in my mini-tour.

As HMP Styal is a prison, we were not allowed to take any photos inside, although security did clear us to bring in ten baking potatoes, ten marker pens and a packet of crisps. Organising anything in a prison is notoriously difficult and Rachel from TiPP (pictured above with a potato) had feared that we might end up with an audience of foreign nationals, none of whom spoke english. In a workshop situation this would have been ok as I could have adapted to provide an non-language based expereince . However Not a Séance requires a definite grasp of the english language!

Fortunately we gathered an audience of about thirty women in the prison library. Some were from education and some were from Fox, The Recovery House at Styal. At around ten they gathered and we seated them cabaret style at a variety of tables.

initially I was struck, as usual, by how vocal a prison audience are. One of the most vocal women really helped me out. As prisons have locked doors I couldn’t throw a potato with negative energy out of the door so I got her to hold the potato and balance its energy with her healing hands!

I had a great time performing for and with them, received a good hit for one of my readings. I connected with a woman and said that the vegetable that had most to teach her at the present moment was the mushroom and spoke about darkness and coming into the light. Her and her friends were very vocal about the fact she had just been talking before the performance about having to wear a hoody as she had bad headaches! Some women played, some women really believed, by the end I had everyone’s attention and people were really willing to write on potatos. One of the biggest questions at the end was would I really bury the potatoes like I said I would.

What I enjoyed most was speaking with the women after the performance and getting feedback from them. Here are some of my personal highlights.

the weirdest most bizzarrest thing I’ve seen in my life

don’t think you should do it on a mental health ward

if i did this i’d end up on the psychiatric ward

silly and mad

i think its real

you should be sectionned

potato madness

it was about being open minded






Working with Sound

I spent the evening with my neighbour Steve Johnson who is a very versatile musician. He has had many excellent ideas for sounds and music to be part of Not a Séance and we started work on them last night.

He has been partly inspired by the work of Matthew Herbert, an electronic musician who uses sounds from every day life to create music. His work includes an album called One Pig that documents the 20 week life cycle of a farmed pig.

I brought the chopping board and the variety of peelers and knives that I used for the one-to-one version of Not a Séance and of course a range of potatoes. We concentrated on recording the sounds of potatoes being peeled and chopped and eaten. The scraping of the knife across the board and the peelers tearing the potato flesh were both recognisable and quite haunting. When Steve began to create music with the sounds what I most liked about it was how it echoes the style of the performance, in that at times it was intense and at others really quite funny. At our next session, we will boiling and burying potatoes.