Essence Productions presents the 2018 Victorian Tour of Point of No Return, written and directed by Alaine Beek which has just begun a state-wide tour. Based on the true story of Australia’s first boys’ prison, the show is set to be a riveting, energetic new Australian drama about a group of youths struggling to survive in Tasmania’s Point Puer Boys’ Prison.
Beek first came up with the idea for the show on a visit to Port Arthur and taking the Point Puer tour with her family.
“I’m always seeking out great Australian stories and was truly fascinated with the whole story of Point Puer being the British empire’s first boys prison. It was also the first time they had separated boys from men in prison and attempted the concept of rehabilitation. As part of the tour we were shown where the boys washed in the morning, the saw pit they worked in and we had a wonderful guide who explained the history. I was excited to discover this Australian story and bought every book in the Port Arthur gift shop on Point Puer. The more I read the more I realised I had to write a play. I was imaging my son being sent on a prison hulk on his own all the way to Australia – hurts my brain thinking about it” she reflected on coming up with the idea.
The Point Puer Boys’ Prison is next to the Port Arthur Prison, and opened with 68 boys aged from 10-20 years old. Established in 1834, the inmates were given the opportunity to learn a trade, read, and write, but this was sporadic and depended on the skills and attitudes of the guards, many of whom were once prisoners at Port Arthur. Living conditions in the prison were rough, and punishments were often brutal.
“Most of us know the history of convicts being sent to Australia. Little known Point Puer, built at Port Arthur, was their first attempt to make a change- the fact that Britain, for all its’ flaws, actually realised at last that putting boys aged 10 to 20 and men in the same prison was not working. Virtually all the boys either died or became hardened prisoners themselves. As usual though, noble as the intentions were, huge mistakes were made. The boys had to build the barracks themselves, which were constantly damaged or falling down. Many of the ‘teachers’ or guards were ex-Port Arthur prisoners, unskilled and unsuitable for the job. There were not enough books and even though the British government tried to limit the type and amount of punishments given to the boys, there was virtually no monitoring of this. Clothing for the boys was haphazard, food and water limited, but they did live in a Barracks setting, as opposed to a prison cell which was just for punishment” she explains.
“The single most fascinating source of information for the play is the original records of punishments given to boys. It details what ‘crime’ they committed which sent them to Point Puer and the misdemeanors they committed with the resultant punishments they received and many of the misdemeanors were almost comical to read – “throwing a brick at a guard, screaming the songs instead of singing them during religious classes, breaking through a solitary cell to join a mate in a cell next door.” It is essentially a story about youths helping each other survive together” said Beek.
Get ready for an emotional journey of a show, but for all the moments of darkness and heaviness there are also moments of light.
“We put a lot of effort into recreating the historical setting and portraying the youths’ behaviour given their circumstances. The fight scenes are quite brutal, but I wanted the audience to feel for each character and so it was imperative to portray them as real and flawed. Each character is quite distinct and reacts differently depending on the circumstances. For the audience to connect with each character they need to be believed and the cast are fearless in showing their emotions. There is a whipping scene that is deliberately done off stage, but the audience sees how the boys react to one of their group being whipped, I feel is far more powerful” Beek explains.
“But there is also a clearer sense of reality, there is plenty of youths being youths; their banter, their ability to easily find humour in a moment and their ability to hold fierce loyalty to a friend. It was important for me to have a sense of hope at the end and reflect the reality that many of the boys did actually survive”.
Centering around a group of young convicts, Point of No Return is a journey of boys becoming men – of youths desperately seeking a place to belong. It will explore loyalty, betrayal, and gang mentality, and this important new work also explores rehabilitation versus punishment in the prison system – a topic still heavily debated today. Littered with struggle and hardship, Point of No Return is also a unique tale of hope, as many of these boys left Point Puer to become Australia’s first colonists. The show is performed by Will McDonald, Alex Roe, William Farnsworth, Jeremy Withers and Phil Cameron-Smith
She sees parallels from the history of Point Puer, to the recent riots at the youth detention centres in Malsbury, Parville and Don Dale.
“The Royal Commission into Don Dale exposed many terrible practices that basically eliminated any chance of boys rehabilitating. These practices were the same errors made a Point Puer – untrained staff, overuse of solitary, ineffective programs to encourage learning, shocking and even cruel practices by the guards. The Royal Commission made many recommendations to improve the boys’ chances of rehabilitation one of which is that Supermax huge prisons don’t work” she said.
“What is also relevant is gang mentality. Youths naturally will join a group or gang purely to feel a sense of belonging. They need a sense of purpose and again, if it can’t be found in positive ways they lose self respect and make reckless choices. There is an old African proverb “If the boy is not initiated into the village, he will burn it down to feel it’s warmth“. This proverb is at the heart of the play. Youths need a sense of belonging – however that comes. It’s still the same today” said Beek.
Beek is keen to see the show continue to grow and would love a run in Melbourne or in Tasmania, where the show is set, or even see it become a television serious or movie. If you miss this tour, the Albury Entertainment Centre has already booked the show for July 18th 2019 as part of their 2019 season.
The current tour heads to Bendigo, Drysdale, Werribee, Collingwood and Frankston. Tickets and more info at: www.pointonr.com