Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Theatre review: Home

Director Nadia Fall has put together a verbatim play for The Shed, in one of the temporary venue's most successful productions so far. Home is set at Target East, an East London hostel for young people with a pretty bad reputation locally. Through interviews with the people who live and work in a real hostel, Fall attempts not only to highlight it as a place that does important, undervalued work, but also to expose its residents, no matter what their backgrounds, as more than just the uniform mass of feral youth the media portrayed them as around the time of the 2011 riots. Most of the people living in the hostel had been homeless prior to getting their place there; many had fled abusive homes, or been disowned and thrown out by their families, or had brushes with the law, even spent time in prison.

All are hoping to find somewhere to call home because, despite the play's title, Target East isn't a destination but a step, hopefully, towards its residents getting somewhere permanent to live, a process that will take a couple of years at best. The first character we meet, Kadiff Kirwan's Singing Boy, is in the middle of some of the obstacles to being approved for his own place, but retains a cheery optimism - all while dealing with college, and grappling with his sexuality.

The characters we meet are all rough around the edges but for the most part sympathetic, from Antonia Thomas' Eritrean Girl, a persecuted illegal immigrant who was abused on her journey to the UK, to Michaela Coel's wildly enthusiastic Young Mum, who can't wait to show off her little living space to Fall (like London Road, Home acknowledges that there's an interviewer present in the room, represented in performance by the audience.) Coel also plays Portugal, a girl with many piercings and a lot to say, until her friend goes out of the room and she goes shyly silent. Clearly a stabilizing influence in a place that had known a lot of trouble before her arrival, the no-nonsense administrator Sharon (Ashley Maguire) has obviously earned more of the residents' respect than Trevor Michael Georges' slightly self-satisfied Key Worker.

At times the play does err slightly too much on the side of only presenting the more vulnerable, sympathetic characters - residents frequently complain of their neighbours fighting or using drugs, but we don't see any of these less angelic figures on stage. The closest to a troublemaker, and the play's most complex character, is Tattoo Boy (Toby Wharton,) prone to short-lived bursts of violence borne out of grief for a dead friend (murdered in an apparently random attack at Westfield, this death haunts the whole play) but also liked by other residents. His sudden, viciously racist rant is straight out of the right-wing press, and he doesn't seem to see the contradiction with the easy friendships he has with other residents of all races and nationalities. The multi-talented Wharton also shows his versatility as the timid, anxiety-ridden Garden Boy, and adds rapping as another string to a bow that already includes writing and looking good in his pants.

The play is also heavily infused with music which provides both energetic and moving interludes, and the cast includes singer Shakka and beatboxer Grace Savage (the show's best running gag sees her beatbox instead of speak, with all the other characters understanding her perfectly.) Home is a vibrant and sometimes emotionally resonant piece, whose political message is perhaps presented as a bit too black-and-white, but which doesn't get in the way of making an entertaining evening at the theatre.

Home by Nadia Fall is booking until the 7th of September at the National Theatre's Shed.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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