Lifeboat and Widsith Present the World Premiere of S-27

The world premiere of a new play by Sarah Grochala. Directed by Stephen Keyworth.

Lifeboat and Widsith present the world premiere of S-27, the winner of Amnesty International’s first Protect The Human Playwriting Competition, for a four week limited season at Finborough Theatre from 9 June – Saturday, 4 July. Press nights Thursday 11 and Friday 12 June.

Inspired by the events at the notorious S-21 prison in Cambodia and by the work of the photographer Nhem En, a young soldier responsible for taking the ID photos of thousands of people before they were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. Playwright Sarah Grochala draws on prison records and interviews with both prisoners and Khmer Rouge cadres to create a startling and affecting drama.

An oppressive regime has rewritten history; there is no more family, no friends, and no lovers, only the state.  May is an idealist, fighting for a better world.  A good soldier, a perfectionist, she has sacrificed everything for this regime. Her reward is a job photographing prisoners before they are executed. As the enemy with both strange and familiar faces pass one by one before her unflinching lens, May’s convictions are dramatically called into question, and the daring possibility of once again dreaming of a life beyond these walls has shocking consequences.

On April 17th 1975 the Khmer Rouge captured Cambodia’s capital and what followed was a four-year reign of genocide as they returned the country to Year Zero. It is estimated that some 2 million Cambodians, a quarter of the population, died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge led by the infamous Pol Pot.

During this murderous period a secret torture and interrogation prison, codenamed S-21, was operating from a former school, Tuol Sleng. Prisoners were tortured until they confessed to whatever crimes their captors charged them with, photographed and then executed. The prisoners’ photographs and confessions formed dossiers that were submitted to Khmer Rouge authorities as ‘proof’ that the ‘traitors’ had been eliminated. Of the 14,200 known people who were imprisoned at S-21, less than 20 are believed to have survived.

An Exhibition of photographs – Facing Death Portraits from Cambodia’s Killing Fields runs 1 May – 26 June at Photofusion Gallery.

S-27 is the second production by Lifeboat Theatre, following Fanny and Faggot by Jack Thorne, which had a sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre in February 2007 and transferred to the Trafalgar Studios. Director Stephen Keyworth was winner of the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Theatre Award 2002 for his production of his own play Dog Well Done – originally commissioned for and performed at the Finborough Theatre in 2000.

Playwright Sarah Grochala credits include Waiting For Romeo, which was chosen by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be part of the celebrations marking the centenary of Ibsen’s death. Last year, she wrote two pieces for Theatre 503 – Viable Alternatives (Theatre 503) and Covent Garden (one of the Urban Sprawl radio plays). She is a graduate of the MPhil in Playwriting Studies and was recently commissioned to write a play to celebrate the course’s 20th anniversary as one of its most distinguished graduates. Sarah originally trained as an actress and has worked extensively in theatre and television, including playing the lead role in Little Women at the Duchess Theatre in the West End.

Director Stephen Keyworth returns to the Finborough Theatre for the third time, following the success of Fanny and Faggot, and Dog Well Done.  Stephen was Artistic Director of 5065 Lift. In 2005, Flight 5065 filled all 32 capsules of the London Eye with theatre, comedy and music including Damon Albarn, Jo Brand, and the National and Royal Court Theatres. He directed two of the fourteen world premieres they commissioned and his own adaptation of Rory Kilalea’s Zimbabwe Boy went on afterwards to be performed at the National Theatre.

Lifeboat Theatre was formed in 2006 to continue the work started by 5065 Lift: to develop challenging new writing and to continue to re-invent and re-imagine the relationship between audience and performers

The Amnesty International Protect The Human Award Judges on S-27

“The dramatic power and moral authority of her winning play, S-27, immediately struck me. It has a spare elegance and emotional charge that left judges and audiences at our series of readings reaching for superlatives.” Robert Delamere, Creative Director Amnesty International UK

“The world of the play is delicately conceived; you achieve moments of real poignancy and truth through the depth and eloquence of your writing. I would like to offer my special commendation for this piece.” Nina Steiger, Writers’ Centre Director, Soho Theatre


Finborough Theatre, The Finborough
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Box Office 0844 847 1652   Book online at

Tuesday, 9 June – Saturday, 4 July 2009
Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm.
Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm (from 20 June).

Performance Length: Approximately 80 minutes with no interval.