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Review: Trap Street, New Diorama - raises more questions than it answers about social housing

There is far more to this subject than is, or can, be explored in an 80 minute play and as a result it feels like the brush strokes are too broad.

Social housing or rather the rise and fall of the post-war council estates comes under the spotlight in a new, devised, piece Trap Street at the New Diorama theatre but before I go on with my thoughts, I feel I should explain my background.

Trap street New diorama
Danusia Samal, Amelda Brown and Hamish MacDougall in Trap Street, New Diorama

I've spent the last 20 years as a journalist writing about development and regeneration so estates renewal and property is familiar territory and has undoubtedly influenced where my interest in the piece lies - and also my frustrations.

Trap Street - a reference to the fake streets added to maps by cartographers so as to protect copyright - focuses on one family to chart the history of an estate and generate social commentary.

It jumps back and forth in time from when Valerie (Amelda Brown) rents a brand new flat on the estate with her two young children - Andrea (Danusia Samal/Amelda Brown) and Graham (Hamish MacDougall) - through to the estate's decline and proposed demolition, by which time Andrea owns the flat.

At first life on the estate is full of promise, a sense of community with residents associations and organisations and people looking out for each other but gradually apathy sets in, cracks in the community appear and the sense of pride begins to disappear.

Rubbish, graffiti, crime and poor maintenance colour the years leading up to plans to demolish and replace with new housing, a mixture of private and social.

Andrea is offered a price for her flat which is a fraction of what it would cost to buy in the new development.

The decline of social housing and estates in particular, is a really meaty and complex topic that takes in everything from politics and capitalism to home-ownership, planning and architecture and is therefore ripe for examination and commentary.

But equally this is where there are problems. Trap Street picks the easy targets - developers looking to make a profit, for example - but what about council funding cuts, right to buy and the debate about pepper-potting vs class division.

Why did the promise and vision of the new estates, that enthusiasm, community and sense of pride wane?

There is far more to this subject than is or can be explored in an 80 minute play and as a result it feels like the brush strokes are too broad. (There is an interesting, long-read piece from The Guardian which highlights many of the issues surrounding estates and estates renewal.)

Was this a family/personal drama or an exploration of social housing concepts in the past 60 years? Sadly the drama - family tensions between mother and daughter - felt superfluous to the overall narrative and there was much that was left unexplored.

This conclusion is nothing to do with the performances or the way the piece is actually devised.

There was an interesting inventiveness - the way 1970s documentaries were recreated, for example - and I particularly enjoyed Amelda Brown's performance as both mother and then grown up daughter fighting for her flat. And for that Trap Street deserves praise.

However, while it has spurred me into wider reading around the topic, I could help feeling slightly unsatisfied that more hadn't been addressed directly in the piece.

Trap Street is at the New Diorama until March 31 and is 80 minutes without an interval.