Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review Home Truths (Cycle Two)

Veteran journalist Tim Gopsill has worked in newspapers and radio, reporting, reviewing and editing before becoming editor of The Journalist until 2009. Now, after 50 years in journalism,  he joins us at TLT Towers and reviews Cardboard Citizens' second trio of plays bringing home the struggle of finding somewhere to live.     

Home Truths
The Table by Lin Coughlan
Put In The Schwarzes And De-Stat It by Nessah Muthy
The House With The Yellow Front Door by Anders Lustgarten

The Foreclosure Of A Dream

“A house is not a home, it’s a dynamic”, says the exuberant mortgage adviser Steven (Mitesh Soni) to the gullible 1980s' council tenant Michael (David Hartley), who believes him – and. more to the point, believes Margaret Thatcher – who buys his home, takes on more and more debt and ends up ruined.

The play is The House With The Yellow Front Door by Anders Lustgarten with tenants-turned-owners suddenly free to paint their entrance whatever colour they like, signifying that the property is now all theirs.

The House With The Yellow Front Door is in the second cycle of three 45-minute dramas that comprise Home Truths, a series of nine plays presented by Cardboard Citizens at Southwark's Bunker Theatre.

All the plays focus on housing problems, particularly for younger people through the 20th century up to the present day.

The obvious risk with enterprises of this kind is to lapse into didacticism or worse: propaganda. The evening opens with the company of ten players strutting through a rather predictable and wooden routine drawing on Gus Elen's Cockney music hall classic If It Wasn’t For The Houses In Between, segueing  into the first piece, Lin Coughlan's The Table, set in the south London of 1919.

But The Table is a clever and finely crafted piece, contrasting a young couple's idealism looking for a post-World-War-One Home Fit for Heroes  with a confrontation between same-sex partners in 2017 over their divergeant attitudes to housing, one being a home-maker, the other a wanderer.

The two scenes, skilfully directed by Adrian Jackson, run parallel, on the same open stage, interweaving but never confusing. There are strong performances from David Hartley again as Eddie, the idealistic husband in 1919, and from Cathy Owen as Freda, the housewifely contemporary woman.

The same two-plays-in-one format works in the second playlet, Put in the Schwartzes and De-Stat It by Nessah Muthy, which tackles the scourge of 1950s' and 1960s' "Rachmanism", named after its allegedly most notorious perpetrator.

Landlord practices to extract maximum profits included moving in nearly arrived unwitting Afro-Caribbean immigrants to force out long-standed rent-protected white tenants, stoking racial tensions in the pursuit of profit and leading to the Notting Hill Riots.

These are clues to the problematic and racially sensitive theme of the piece: the exploitation of poor people, black and white alike, by unscrupulous West London landlords in the  1950s and 1960s..

Here the two-plays-in-one are not a century apart but precisely contemporary and in the same place:  two rooms in the same building, with a black and a white couple, pawns in the same game, whose lives intertwine but never meet, not even in the final ghastly representation of the race riots.

This is dangerous territory but director Caitlin McLeod steers firmly through the racial minefield, and the piece is ingeniously introduced with pastiche Pathé newsreels projected onto the wall to establish the background.

Endy McKay and Adrian Skeete as Eliza and Lyron Emmanuel are convincing as the bewildered newcomers, a Jamaican couple who cannot comprehend the racism. “We will have to be nicer to them,” she says.

The House With The Yellow Front Door, the third play, is a parable on greed and does veer in the direction of caricature: the plausible agent, the dumb home-owner and the violent Northern Irish debt collector with his baseball bat. But this is political theatre, after all.

The strength of these plays is that they don’t preach about housing policy but use it as the setting for deeper human dramas: jealousy, envy, loyalty and moral dilemmas. It's an amber/green light for an  absorbing evening of drama about a necessity for us all.

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