One & Other

Standing on a plinth in Trafalgar Square was the experience of a lifetime for Belfast filmmaker Tom Magill. Watch a video of Tom's appearance below

One & OtherTom Magill is artistic director of the Educational Shakespeare Company, as well as the co-founder of the Community Arts Forum and the Prison Arts Foundation. Click on the picture (right) to watch a video of Magill's time on the plinth on the Sky Arts website.

The Project

Artist Anthony Gormley's high-profile One & Other project offers people the chance to stand for one hour on a plinth in Trafalgar Square in central London. A total of 2,400 participants representing every region of the UK take turns over 100 days and nights, with a live webstream and Sky Arts updates broadcasting each participant's time to the world. Individuals are selected via a lottery, and the total amount of applicants currently stands at 34,424.

After being selected, my project aimed to give a voice to prisoners and ex-offenders from all over Northern Ireland, to do justice to the memory of those men and to share some of those memories. Armed with a CD of captive voices I wanted to do only what was appropriate; that is, looking, listening, remembering. I was silent, to let their voices be heard. It's about freeing those captive voices through creativity.

The captive voices on the CD come from a range of prisoners and ex-prisoners I have worked with over the years. They include Republican prisoners in Long Kesh performing The Crime of Castlereagh, a stage adaptation of Bobby Sands' epic poem, and lifers on a basic regime at Maghaberry prison who created the world-first Mickey B, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Ex-prisoner voices came from the short films made by men on the Longabbey project in Belfast.

The Preparation
Saturday October 3, 1pm. With five hours until showtime I’m photocopying handouts in a newsagents and post office in Stratford, east London. There is a photocopier, but no guillotine and only a tiny pair of scissors. Snip snip snip, 150 times. We also need to collect money, but we have no bucket. The Post Office has no bucket. But it has Pringles. A quick snip around an A4 flyer, a bit of cellotape, and we have a collecting tin.

Then it's off to Waterloo Station to collect the high-volume Bose sound system from left luggage. Because I’d dashed straight from the editing suite into a waiting car with CD in hand and then raced to the airport, we didn't have time for a rehearsal with the CD. The tracks are not in the right order. It begins with applause but the introduction is track 6. 

And then it hits me like a punch. I search every pocket in my jeans and jacket. I’ve left the luggage ticket in my Berghaus top. Which is in the wardrobe in the hotel in Stratford. 

We go to Waterloo and hope the guy who was there last night will remember us. But it’s a new guy working. We try to explain that the ticket for our sound system, needed for the hour on Antony Gormley’s live installation, is in Stratford and we don’t have time to go back. The whole hour relies on the captive voices. 

We describe what the sound system looks like. He fetches it. 'I’m going to treat this like a lost ticket,' he says. '15 quid.' 

After paying up we head north towards Charing Cross; I'm clutching all ten kilos of the sound system to my side. Arriving at the friendly One & Other portacabin in Trafalgar Square, we have cups of tea and fill in forms. I check the Bose and nothing happens. Nothing is happening. At all. 

We’d charged the battery overnight and hadn’t used it since. There was no reason for it not to work but after slipping the battery into the charger we see only one green dot instead of the six that should have been there. There's one hour to go, and the reality of the situation begins to dawn on me. 

The staff in the office suggest getting another sound system but we aren't sure we can get one powerful enough to be heard over the crowd in Trafalgar Square. After sending a round of panic texts our colleague Simon, at home in Belfast, has a great idea.

He rings the Bose dealership on Regent Street and asks if they hold spare batteries. They do, and quickly put one on to charge. But they can't send it in a taxi. With the clock reading 5.30pm, I still have to be interviewed and photographed and archived for posterity. I resign myself to standing silently on the plinth when team-mate Kirsten, after a frantic taxi ride, bursts through the door with the freshly-charged battery.

Taking a Stand
I am ushered into the cherry-picker and hoisted above the crowds in Trafalgar Square. I wait, Tom Magillsuspended above the action, while the person on before me gets in with her gear. I step onto the plinth with the sound system. I switch it on and thankfully the panel lights up. A voice inside me says, 'relax, and take your time. This is your hour'.

It's an amazing experience. I am a conduit for the voices, present in their absence. I am there as a representative of their energy, on that plinth, freeing their captive voices. I am isolated, and observed. Alone and imprisoned, humble and proud, defiant and free, I share those men’s emotions, feelings, and hopes, their aspirations, their pride and their vulnerabilities.

All the voices are authentic, unheard, challenging and compelling. I remember when each word was spoken, where they were spoken and how and why they were uttered. It is a great honour and very emotional. 

Now, I feel like my time on the plinth was a watershed in my own life. I feel the significance of having had the courage to stand up in public and do it. It’s there now, it’s a record, a monument. I felt strangely peaceful on that plinth. Rather than just stand there and let the voices do their own work, I felt the urge to do something, to move. I am proud to have been a part of it.

Watch a video made about the Educational Shakespeare Company below.

Tom Magill is the artistic director of the Educational Shakespeare Company, as well as the co-founder of the Community Arts Forum and the Prison Arts Foundation.

Click here to watch Tom's hour on the plinth.