Verbatim theatre tends to feature actors speaking other people’s words. Occasionally, it’s performed by the people who originally spoke the words. What LUNG and writer/director Matt Woodhead serve up with Woodhill is a group of dancers performing alongside a kicking soundtrack and recordings of the people they interviewed (voiced by actors) as part of their investigation into a string of deaths at Woodhill Prison. In 2016, Woodhill in Milton Keynes recorded the highest number of self-inflicted deaths of any prison in England or Wales.
We follow the story of three inmates through a mother, a step-brother and a sister. Each sketches out the boy they loved, the challenges he faced and each is clear that they could’ve done more to intervene as their son or brother made a series of decisions that led him to the Category A prison. So far, so disappointingly predictable. But then the story veers off piste. We learn that conditions at the prison verge on the inhumane, the prison officers resoundingly neglect their duties, safeguarding appears to be a dirty word, and corruption is rife.
The story is horrific, harrowing, a devastating expose of people who attach entirely different values to different people’s lives. The flat devastation in the voices recounting the awful events is powerful in itself. The choreography is punchy, angular, visceral and furiously energetic. These are powerhouse performances from Tyler Brazao, Miah Robinson and Marina Climent. Chris Otim as the faceless victim turned Svengali puppet master is an effective counterweight to the relentless despair.
Using the voiceovers to deliver the story and enacting them through dance puts the burden of the storytelling onto the performers. It might be that the piece would make a more powerful emotional connection if the words were given a bit more space to breathe. That said, this is a fiercely visceral response to a devastating breach of trust making for a punchy  and compelling important piece of theatre. (Sign the petition here).
Woodhill runs until Sunday 27 Aug 2023 at Summerhall – Main Hall at 20:55