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David Hayman in Barlinnie

It wasn’t the first time David Hayman had been inside HMP Barlinnie. In
truth, the veteran actor and director’s appearance this week in the
former home of convicted murderer turned sculptor Jimmy Boyle to give a
bravura solo turn in his friend and colleague Rony Bridges play, Six
and a Tanner, makes him something of an old lag.

In the 1980s when Hayman was at the helm of left-wing theatre company,
7:84, he would frequently host rehearsals of forthcoming works before
inmates. Hayman’s associations go back even further, to the days of
Barlinnie’s controversial special unit, which enabled Boyle and other
offenders the resources to become artists under a progressively
enlightened regime.

Hayman played Boyle in the 1981 STV drama, A Sense of Freedom, based on
Boyle’s autobiography. Hayman also directed Silent Scream, a 1990
feature film starring Ian Glen as Larry Winters, another Special Unit
inmate who died of an overdose of barbiturates in the institution.

Neither film was made at Barlinnie, however. Hayman was even banned by
the Scottish Office from entering a prison for ten years, just for
playing Boyle, whose public profile became such a thorn in the
establishment’s side.

The Special Unit may be long gone, and the hundred or so young men
dressed in blue or red fleeces who filed into Barlinnie’s
high-ceilinged chapel yesterday to the strains of a jaunty Earl Hines
record for the first of four performances of Six and a Tanner may not
even have heard of it. Only a large ledger turned scrap-book in the
corner of the room bore witness to the centre’s past, with pages of
messy newspaper clippings pasted alongside a full list of Special Unit
residents from 1973, Boyle and Winters included.

As Barlinnie’s current residents watched Hayman perform Bridges’
autobiographical tale of one man’s coming to terms with the effects of
a violent and alcoholic father, however, as Hayman’s angrily addressed
a coffin at the centre of the raised stage, one suspects at least parts
of this painful story hit home for them.

Once Hayman launched into the piece, initial snickering turned to
silence, and by the time Hayman whipped the coffin with a belt the same
way his character’s father had whipped him, you could hear a pin-drop.
A less captive experience can be had when the play visits Oran Mor in
Glasgow’s west end next Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

The Herald, March 9th 2011

ends

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