Next month, Battersea’s Theatre503 plays host to Homecomings, a festival of new plays by prisoners and ex-prisoners about getting out and going home. Produced in partnership with the Synergy Theatre Project, the festival runs from 21st February to 18th March and will feature two of the winners of Synergy’s third national prison scriptwriting competition – Glory Whispers by Sonya Hale and The Monkey by John Stanley.
John, a lifelong Londoner, describes The Monkey as “a dark, comic contemporary drama of criminality, addiction and money owed”. The four characters he’s created, he explains, offer “a brief glimpse of the many diverse and varied people I met during my life’s erratic and unusual journey”.
Until he joined the Synergy project, John never imagined a future as a playwright: “The short answer is no, although I’ve always dabbled in poetry. Recently I completed a book about my life, but the truth is that until I completed the Synergy playwriting course I never had an interest in theatre.”
The Synergy Project, founded in 2000, seeks to build a bridge from prison to social reintegration, prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system, and inspire change by capturing the imagination of participants and public. After learning about the project from a friend who worked at the Young Vic, John joined the Synergy playwriting course and went on to write The Monkey. He’s thrilled to have his first ever play selected as a winner, out of a record 134 entries.
“I was over the moon when I found out, truly elated. Synergy has had such an enormously positive impact on my life that it’s impossible to quantify in a few sentences.” His advice to others thinking about getting involved in Synergy is simple: “Don’t hesitate and don’t delay, take the opportunity and go for it immediately.”
John’s now looking forward to seeing his work come to life on stage: “It’s exciting and nerve-wracking to see it come to life. I wrote The Monkey in 2012 and when I finally got to hear it in its entirety at the rehearsed reading recently, it was somewhat unreal but it was really gratifying. I am a touch nervous as to whether people will like it or not, though my feeling is you either do or you don’t and that’s how it is. Some people will find it hilarious and some won’t, but I hope they at least find it funny. If they do that would be wonderful.
“I’m sure I portray a world that most people are unaware of, so I hope they go away educated in some degree to an underbelly that exists in their midst – but most of all I hope they find it funny and have a good laugh.”