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BWW Review: HOME TRUTHS, The Bunker Theatre

Home Truths is subtitled "An Incomplete History Of Housing Told In Nine Plays" - I saw the three cycles in one day, running from Midday through to 9.45pm. Sounds gruelling doesn't it? But it's anything but, the time flying due to the wit and wisdom of the writing, the skills and energy of the cast and a sure-handedness and empathy displayed by the two directors on duty, Caitlin McLeod and Adrian Jackson. This is political theatre that never forgets that the second word in that phrase is more important than the first.

The plays run 30 - 45 minutes each and cover a time period stretching from the 1880s to the present day. The "Housing" theme anchors a day that could easily go off the rails, the stories clanking against each other, like a train constantly crossing points. Though the nine can be viewed in any order, the single day option does appear to follow a chronological order that also helps. The only chaos on stage is that of the policy makers, not the theatre makers!

Inevitably, political points emerge (this show celebrates Cardboard Citizens' 25 years of producing theatre around homelessness after all) and none reflect well on those whom we elect to rule over us. The Poor (and we're frequently reminded of their division into The Deserving Poor and The Undeserving Poor) are denied agency through the decades - whether by the philanthropic Victorians and their followers full of good Christian intentions or by the heartless bureaucracy of a faceless Welfare State in thrall to targets and penny-pinching. Given that one (literally) cannot live without a place to live, that it should be so hard and so expensive to acquire a roof over one's head, is a damning testimony of complacency and cruelty by design and default.

The ensemble cast work heroically, creating completely credible characters who last for one act before creating another for the next play minutes later - and not once do you get that feeling of confusion that can arise when actors double roles in fringe productions. There are a few costume changes and a variety of accents help, but mostly it's just high quality acting, the technical mastery of movement and tone doing the job seamlessly.

The writing matters too and ten playwrights provide a kaleidoscope of plots that resolve into a coherent clarity of vision. Heathcote Williams (with Sarah Woods) take us back to the Swinging Sixties when he worked at anarchic The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency that jemmied open empty buildings for squatters (that's when Williams wasn't dating Jean Shrimpton). Nessah Muthy shows us the tension attendant on the combination of West Indian immigration and Rachmanist landlords in late 1950s Notting Hill in Put In The Schwarzes And De-Stat It. And my favourite, Anders Lustgarten's typically brutal black comedy, The House With The Yellow Front Door, tracing the life of Michael, a man who bought into Thatcherism's home-owning democracy rhetoric (and the debt that comes with it) and paid too high a price.

Even the weaker pieces are strong, their appeal diminished as a result of subjective taste rather than any fundamental flaws and, while some may find the perspective a little one-eyed (these are explicitly and unapologetically tales about poor people though), the commitment to the cause never falters nor grates.

Adrian Jackson, Artistic Director of Cardboard Citizens, states that the company aim to "...allow our audiences to ponder how our society, after the utopian enterprises of successive generations of activists and dreamers, has reached the point (again) of housing people in sheds and cupboards and garages." Objective achieved - now what happens next?

Home Truths continues at The Bunker Theatre until 13 May.

Photo Pamela Raith.

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From This Author Gary Naylor