Arriving at E15 – the play, not the postcode – you’re greeted by infectiously enthusiastic performers dancing to upbeat music, handing out leaflets, and chanting slogans into a portable sound system.
Social housing not social cleansing!
These people need homes! These homes need people!
Clipboards circulate, so you can add your name to a petition – a real petition, that is – not a theatre petition, not a mailing list.
It’s the sort of carnival atmosphere that you sometimes get at the more accessible sort of political protest. The kind that characterised a campaign started by a diverse group of single mothers in Newham when government cuts saw their state support withdrawn, their rent increased, and their families threatened with eviction and forced relocation.
By turns excoriating and triumphant, this is a finely-crafted slice of verbatim docu-theatre. Helen Monks’ script draws on testimonies from council staffers, charity workers, and the activists themselves, shifting between transcribed interviews and sections of direct address perfectly suited to a story of direct action.
Director Matt Woodhead – who also co-authored the script – lets these voices speak for themselves, his performers circulating restlessly around the space. If things ever begin to feel static, there’s a burst of crashing sound – an echo of marching feet, of a chant, of a door smashed in by police – and the scene shifts.
At one point, the house lights are raised and the dialogue spills into the audience, with Josh Finan delivering a gentle monologue which perfectly drives home its point about the invisibility of the homeless.
The young cast give excellent performances without exception, each inhabiting a fixed character, but ready to leap into another persona as the story demands. Each has a chance to shine, evoking the joys and fears of their political and personal struggles, but also slipping in some sass and some sly, dry humour.
Behind them, a patchwork of banners forms a backcloth, and a washing line is hung with Polaroid portraits of the real faces behind these stories. These are disadvantaged people, often demonised or disregarded, but the play isn’t so much about giving a voice to the voiceless – the residents of E15 made themselves heard just fine – it’s about remembering that these battles are still ongoing. Remembering that homelessness continues to increase at an appalling rate, while properties lie empty. Remembering that one in every 25 children in London is homeless.
Full of fury and compassion, this is an important and remarkably effective piece of political theatre, and a fine tribute to a community united.