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Review: Finding and keeping a roof over your head in Home Truths (cycle one), Bunker Theatre

HOME TRUTHS  RUNS AT THE BUNKER THEATRE 17 APRIL TO  13 MAY (1).Under the sub-heading 'An Incomplete History of Housing Told in Nine Plays' Cardboard Citizen are performing three cycles of three short plays exploring...housing. Playwrights including E V Crowe and Anders Lustgarten have contributed and stories told range in setting from the 1800s right up to present day. They are interspersed with snippets of historical footage and quotes which are allocated to the actors via a 'director'.

Cycle one kicks off with Sonali Bhattacharyya's Slummers. It's the story of 16-year old Polly and her family who make a living in late 18th Century London as milliners, selling their wares on the streets. They've already been displaced once to make way for a new road and are living in  'Old Nichol' - the overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous slums in Shoreditch - when they are approached by a representative of Peabody as being suitable tenants for their new estate. However, six months into their new life and dwelling, they are threatened with eviction.

The piece examines the notion of 'deserving poor' versus 'undeserving poor' - a theme that echoes through the cycle - 'deserving' in this instance seems to mean willing not only to follow the rules but not to question or challenge those that provide.

Bhattacharyya's play aptly exposes the class tension and the powerful strings attached to assistance through the domestic triangle of Polly who wants the benefits of the new home, her mother who wants the benefits of a more just society and the Peabody volunteer who believes what she is doing is right.

Next up was 1970s set The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Heathcote Williams with Sarah Woods about an 'estate agency' set up for homeless people. The group monitor empty properties for squatting and broadcast their availability on pirate radio while themselves playing a cat and mouse game with the authorities and their own landlord.

It is fun and lively piece populated with eccentric, clever and caring people but with a serious underbelly - tonally it reminded me of James Graham's The Angry Brigade. The clever way the squatters out-manoeuvre the authorities and landlords feels satisfyingly like a huge two finger salute to the establishment while the personal stories of those who have found themselves homeless serve to demonstrate the challenges and harsh realities of everyday life.

The final play Back to Back to Back by Stef Smith follows two couples living in neighbouring flats over the course of nine months. One couple is expecting. He's from the area and wants to stay whereas she is not and wants something she perceives is better but economic hardships challenge that. The other couple is trying for baby and have a damp patch they can't afford to get fixed.

When the two couples get to know each other the grievances of living in such close proximity - and in poor quality accommodation - get aired and their ideas of community are challenged.

As a collective the three plays have powerful and provocative messages. Ruff Tuff lifts the evening from being almost entirely stark and depressing and perhaps that is the missing element - highlighting the problems of housing is important but I'd also be interested in more exploration of the potential solutions or 'fight backs' against the fundamentally flawed system and attitude to housing our society has.

Cycle one of Home Truths is two hours and a half hours with an interval and runs in rep with the other two cycles at the Bunker Theatre until May 13. I'm giving it four stars.

 

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