The National Theatre At Home scheme continues to raid its back catalogue to provide all sorts of goodies which not only encompass their big hitters and shows from other venues such as the Young Vic, but which also give us a chance to catch up with some less well remembered but equally rewarding fare. Into this latter category falls one of their latest releases as Home from 2013 makes its debut on the platform. Conceived, written and directed by Nadia Fall it contains in its cast an actor who has gone on to great acclaim in the person of Michaela Coel, though here she is just one of a tight ensemble of excellent young actors.
Home is verbatim theatre taken from over 30 hours of interviews with the residents and staff of so called “foyer” accommodation for young people who are in danger of becoming homeless. Its derivation is laid bare in the pay’s structuring device where the characters are reacting to questions from their unseen interviewers and playing out their testimony for recordings which will later be used to construct the piece. This conceit works very well although the rather patchwork collage it creates is thin on storyline; the characters’ various experiences form the narrative. Thus, we hear from more than one young mother, young men who have been ordered to leave home, an Eritrean refugee, an ex-resident as well as the hostel supervisor and staff. All have sobering tales to tell but are united in their need for a place like Target East to help them through their difficulties. There is one central thread which emerges; this is the death of a resident in a knife fight at a local shopping centre and the final scene takes place at a barbecue in his remembrance. Strangely this strikes somewhat of a false note as the play could perfectly well manage without it and concentrate on its collage of characters most of whom are not given names but branded as Garden Boy or Asian Young Mum, etc.
There’s a good deal of music in the piece mostly composed by Tom Green and Shakka; the latter features in the cast as Bullet a resident facing financial difficulties. There’s also a rousing rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo” from Kadiff Kirwan as an aspiring thespian and the extraordinary beatboxing abilities of Grace Savage who communicates vocally throughout but without benefit of any actual words. Ashley McGuire thoroughly convinces as facility manager Sharon, perpetually dealing with the challenges of her charges and of making ends meet on a dwindling budget. There’s an extremely well diversified pair of roles from Toby Wharton who as Tattoo Boy makes us feel completely uncomfortable as he espouses the sort of views all too common among disenfranchised young white males. As for Coel, here she is already starting to show potential star quality in the first of what turned out to be three consecutive appearances in the National’s temporary Shed Theatre (Chewing Gum Dreams has already been released on NT At Home). Also playing dual roles which are again well differentiated, it is clear why she kept being recast and given room to develop her craft.
Ruth Sutcliffe’s functional design conjures up the spirit of the communal area and office with a hint of the accommodation at an upper level. There is little by way of furnishing or props – sensibly the babies are mimed – but there are sufficient to create a realistic picture. Lighting (Ciaran Bagnall) is also used to good effect to designate various interior and exterior locations. Nadia Fall adopts a directorial style similar to that used in her film No Masks last year, keeping things simple and direct and letting the characters and their issues speak for themselves. While there is an implied judgement about the powers that be it is largely left to the audience to form its own conclusions. I doubt that much has changed for the young people who find themselves in a similar situation nearly a decade on, so unlike some pieces of verbatim theatre this is still very much an issue which needs addressing through the medium of drama.
Production photos by Ellie Kurtz
Home is available on National Theatre At Home – click here
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