Exclusive – Pimlico Opera to stage Les Mis at Surrey prison

After missing out 2016 while it and sister company Grange Park Opera were building their own Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, and moving to Surrey following a protracted dispute with the owners of its Hampshire HQ for 17 years, Pimlico Opera is once again going to prison with a musical – and what a musical!

Les Misérables will play from 13-21 October at HMP High Down, near Sutton, Surrey, with prisoners joining forces with Pimlico’s professional cast, orchestra and creatives, the inmates rehearsing with them for a month, mixing freely with the Pimlico team and returning to their cells only for meal breaks.

The main parts are done by the professionals with smaller ones and the ensemble taken by some of High Down’s 1,200 prisoners.

This will be the 22nd such production since Pimlico took Sweeney Todd to Wormwood Scrubs in 1991 and the third time for Les Misérables, previously chosen for Wandsworth in 2007 and Erlestoke in Wiltshire in 2012.

West Side Story has proved the most popular prison musical with seven productions. Threepenny Opera, Assassins, Sweeney Todd, Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Sister Act, Sugar and Carmen The Musical have all had the Pimlico treatment since.

Their last musical was Our House, with composer Suggs in the cast, at YOI Isis, the young offenders wing of Belmarsh, in East London two years ago.

So far more than 1,000 prisoners, many who had never been to the theatre before or applauded for anything they had done in their lives, have trod the boards or helped backstage and 55,000 members of the public have spent time behind bars watching these, hopefully life-changing, performances.

Tickets go on sale in September and account for one-third of the £190,000 needed to fund the project. Pimlico receives no public subsidy.

Grange Park Opera is up and running at West Horsley Place, a glorious, ancient house inherited by former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne from an aunt. Gascoigne’s trust has granted them a 99-year lease.

Tosca was their opening shot in June. There was no musical in their 2017 programme but Oklahoma! will be part of the summer festival next June/July. They staged Fiddler On the Roof with Bryn Terfel in 2015 and Oliver! last year.

Jeremy Chapman


Readers may also be interested in:

Our House, performed by Pimlico Opera and inmates of Isis Young Offenders Institution at Woolwich, London – Review


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