Walking through the double doors to The Shed, our perspective is instantly shifted. Rather than being greeted with the usual blank wall, a window and door gives us a view into the auditorium itself, whilst a sign on the Shed’s dressing room reads “IT Department”. Ruth Sutcliffe’s design places us inside the walls of Target East, a high rise hostel for the young and homeless, complete with posters and leaflets.
Like Nadia Fall’s verbatim-led production, the lines between theatre and reality are blurred so that we may question the actions of governments past and present who haven’t done enough to help the tens of thousands who don’t get the lives they deserve. Home is a fiercely moving indictment of our collective treatment of young people, but also asks probing questions about the nature of belonging.
The two-hours of text here have been edited from over thirty hours of interviews, meaning that we only get a select group of stories (always a problem in verbatim, but Fall manages to sidestep this problem a little by presenting a spectrum of residents and staff). From a lack of direction at the start, a loose narrative slowly begins to weave itself into the scenes as characters (though ‘characters’ isn’t the right word – these are real people) describe a lost friend – Daniel – who meant a great deal to a great many before being stabbed in Westfields. In a similar way to London Road, this crisis brings everyone together during the final scene so that hope can be offered for the future.
I’m not entirely sold on Fall’s chosen mode of delivery, which places us in the role of interviewer; actors eyeball particular audience members after being asked a question which was never actually voiced, thus running the risk of making us feel powerless. Fortunately, however, this problem isn’t always apparent as answers work the question into them so they sound more like a monologue than edited conversation. During these moments – like when an Eritrean girl tells us about her past or a young mum laments her lack of assistance – we actually manage to hear some of the hurt and delve deeper into the issue itself.
Fall – with Sutcliffe – opt for a simple and understated theatricality, which finds beauty and hope in the tiniest of gestures. Music plays an integral role from the moment Kadiff Kirwan sings an unaccompanied version of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ in the first scene, with Tom Green and Shakka’s music weaving its way in and out of scenes, partly inspired by a common musical language (i.e. pop songs from Rihanna and Plan B) and partly by the voices of Target East’s residents (songs like ‘No Shoulder to Cry On’ are inspired by the interviews), all sung and played live. One of the most innovative aspects of Home sees UK Female Beatboxing Champion Grace Savage use beatboxing as a form of expression. Using just her vocal chords, she argues, agrees and chats to her friends on stage, as the realities of the interviews become translated for stage. And, brilliantly, it works – she gets just as much emotion and meaning across with her chosen form of expression as anyone else does when using the normalised English language.
The cast of nine inhabit these voices with humour and compassion, switching between characters with ease. Kirwan begins as a soft-spoken boy before embodying a confident, buoyant man ex-resident, whilst Toby Wharton moves from the bigoted, troubled ‘Tattoo Boy’ to the all-loving, insightful ‘Garden Boy’ so seamlessly that you forget it’s the same actor. The most subtle performance comes from Ashley McGuire’s Sharon, who oversees the whole Target East operation with poise and charm, informing us that in her situation you have to change things one life at a time. Her dissection of how the idea of council housing has been destroyed is done with such ease and clarity that it makes you wonder why we’ve let it happen.
Home is not ashamed to present an argument against the Tory government’s policies, which continue to have adverse effects on the lives of millions, but its understated theatricality means it is much more than that, and the truth behind the words lift it above the present penchant for ‘poverty porn’. While giving a voice to the voiceless and demonstrating the real-world effects of spending cuts, Fall also asks us much bigger questions: What is a home? And what happens to us if we don’t have one?