Friday, 21 April 2017

Review Home Truths (Cycle One)

Peter Barker admires the passion behind a trio of plays seeking to chart the history and current state of putting a roof over our heads.

Home Truths
Slummers by Sonali Battacharyya
The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Heathcote Williams and Sarah Woods
Back To Back To Back by Stef Smith

Underneath the Arches

There are over 200,000 homes lying empty in the UK, while more people each month are sleeping in boxes on the street, taken for granted as part of the city landscape,  or making up the ranks of the hidden homeless, sofa surfing.

Housing is a subject affecting almost everyone and three one-act pieces form part of Cardboard Citizens' Home Truths, a festival of nine new plays in The Bunker Theatre running until mid May.

Slummers concentrates on the 19th century housing crisis, The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency on the squatters' boom of the 1970s and Back To Back To Back brings the housing story up to date, touching on mortgages in tandem with redundancy and babies.

Also thrown into the mix are projections spanning three centuries and music spliced by fragments of real-life stories.

Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Slummers directed by Caitlin McLeod focusses on an East End family living in the most squalid part of Shoreditch in the late Victorian era.

They rely on the kindness of others for their housing, early social housing projects founded by social reformers and philanthropists. But they are  trapped within a system which defines the poor as deserving and undeserving and the radicalism of Cathy Owen's matriarch Ada almost excludes them from being rehoused.

This Cockney kitchen sink drama manages to avoid working class stereotypes, even if the disembodied voice of the charity official feels like merely merely a cypher for unpleasantness.

Heathcote Williams’ and Sarah Woods' The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency has a completely different starting point - the experiences of Williams himself as a 1970s' London squatter when anarchist and hippy movements discovered direct action.

Despite a rather clunky framework of a young woman drawn into a squat and a past seen through rather rose-coloured spectacles, this piece, directed by Adrian Jackson, is tremendous fun with ideas spilling all round.

With a bravura performance by Andre Skeete as street-wise Pius,  the anarchists and hippies win out (hoorah, and spliffs all round!) defeating the forces of convention, that are the landlords.

The final piece, Stef Smith’s lyrical Back to Back to Back is the most ambitious of the plays, tackling some of contemporary housing's complex problems.

An Asian husband and wife and a lesbian couple  are neighbours in a mixed estate of social housing and private ownership. While the latter own their own home, their hopes for a family are cruelly undercut by the cost of their mortgage. Their neighbours seem at first more secure renting but even this also proves illusory.

The evening has a makeshift quality with rackety furniture both on and offstage and there is plenty of energy and some wit. Yet, despite meeting a vital subject head on, dramatically the plays overall feel uneven and simplistic and, even with obvious passion behind this project, this trio of plays only  just about makes an amber light.

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