‘I am a theatre’: 40 years of Clean Break Theatre Company

Swiss Cottage Gallery from 24 June - 31 July 2021

Clean Break celebrates four decades of creating ground-breaking theatre on women’s experience of the criminal justice system with its retrospective exhibition ‘I am a theatre’: 40 years of Clean Break Theatre Company.

The live exhibition takes place at Swiss Cottage Gallery from 24 June - 31 July 2021, with Covid-secure measures in line with the latest government guidelines. It features:


  • previously unseen archival material, tracing the origins of the company from two women meeting in HMP Durham’s High Security Wing in 1977, to creating plays in prison and setting up Clean Break after release in 1979 as a 'women prisoners theatre';
  • original scripts, photography and artwork from 40 years of ground-breaking plays;
  • hand-written letters and correspondence from the founders;
  • original tv and documentary film featuring and produced by Clean Break from the 1980s to today;
  • footage from the 40th anniversary video interviews with 42 women from across its 40-year history;
  • an installation by artist Miriam Nabarro inspired by the 2019 production Sweatbox – set inside a decommissioned prison van – reimagined for the gallery space;
  • a digital events programme, including:
    • press and private view on 25 June
    • webinar with award-winning playwright and Clean Break trustee, Winsome Pinnock, on creating her 1996 play Mules;
    • online screening of co-founder Jacqueline Holborough’s play Killers, recorded for Channel 4 in 1984;
    • workshop on creating with archives led by prominent Clean Break artist, Paula Varjack;
    • finale event on 28 July, featuring a re-imagining of our 1987 performance, Voices from Prison.

Full event listings below.

Jacqueline Holborough and Jennifer Hicks, Co-Founders of Clean Break: “We were dreaming big in 1979, but in our wildest dreams and furthest travels we could not have envisaged the brilliant organisation that Clean Break has become thanks to the talent, love and sheer determination of so many magnificent women.”

Alison Frater, Chair of Clean Break: "Since the beginning, Clean Break's advocacy through theatre and Member support has highlighted the policy perversity of imprisoning women - influencing a consensus by successive governments to reduce the rate of incarceration. The announcement of 500 new prison places for women, taking money from much needed community services and the failure to introduce measures to reduce violence against women and girls (yet removing the right to protest) in the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, demonstrates that its work is still very much needed."

The exhibition has been curated by Claire Stone, Heritage Project Manager at Clean Break, and is co-designed by Miriam Nabarro and Liz Whitbread. Miriam Nabarro is a visual artist and scenographer with 25 years’ experience in socially engaged and participatory settings, both locally and internationally. Liz Whitbread is a Member of Clean Break who joined in 2012 and graduated in 2019 from Wimbledon UAL in Theatre Design. Their previous collaboration on a mobile exhibition inspired by the archive toured the UK alongside 2019’s Sweatbox, set inside a prison van, and has been re-imagined as an installation for this exhibition.

This exhibition is made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council. This funding was received to celebrate Clean Break's 40th anniversary year, to document our heritage by: establishing a publicly accessible archive of our work at the Bishopsgate Institute; conducting oral history interviews; creating a digital timeline and exhibitions to share its story.

Alongside the exhibition, Clean Break launches a digital timeline on its website to provide unlimited access to archival material and the history of Clean Break to online audiences. Further opportunities to engage with the exhibition through its digital events programme include an online screening of the 1984 Channel 4 production of founder Jacqueline Holborough’s play, Killers; events led by multimedia performance artist Paula Varjack and award-winning playwright and Clean Break trustee, Winsome Pinnock; and a final performance inspired by Clean Break’s 1987 production, Voices from Prison, reimagined with Clean Break partners and women in prison today.



at Swiss Cottage Gallery, 24 June – 31 July (booking opens 12 May) 

Monday to Thursday: 11am-6pm
Friday and Saturday: 11am-3pm

Booking: www.cleanbreak.org.uk/productions/iamatheatre  

Tickets: Free