Sunday, 9 August 2015

Theatre review: We Know Where You Live

Steven Hevey's We Know Where You Live first turned up at the Finborough as one of the rehearsed readings in 2013's Vibrant season, but its return for a full staging couldn't have been better timed, as the hipsters of East London fret that a new Pret A Manger might destroy a local history that stretches back as far as four whole years into the distant past. The play's central character, Ben (Matt Whitchurch) isn't quite as irony-deficient as that, but he still finds himself at odds with seemingly everyone about how important the history of his little corner of London is. Because in another of this year's plays looking at the spiraling cost of housing, this one focuses particularly on gentrification: Architect Ben and his fabric designer girlfriend Asma (Ritu Arya) can't find anywhere they can afford, until a ground-floor flat in an unnamed Hackney neighbourhood becomes available - and even then Asma's wealthy father needs to chip in with the rent.

Originally from a different part of London but having lived in Brighton for many years, Ben wants to reconnect with the city, and he thinks the plans to knock down a row of Victorian villas and build a generic shopping centre are a threat to the neighbourhood's character.

But the leader of the local residents' association, Mary (Paddy Navin,) is all in favour of the new development, having a less romanticised notion of the area she's lived in all her life and, as it turns out, a personal reason for wanting to see the villas gone. We Know Where You Live is an interesting piece that looks at gentrification from a number of different angles. Ben tends to be patronising towards the locals, and has an agenda of his own, but he's essentially well-meaning, although Asma is a bit more of a snob.

Whitchurch is an appealing lead and Navin has her usual likeably no-nonsense air as the woman who often has to mediate between Gary Beadle's Roy and Daniel York's Keith, an entertaining double-act who seem to have been bickering non-stop since the eighties. They provide much of the play's lighter side but both characters reveal troubled lives as well.

Ben and Asma's flat proves not only to have a chequered past but one that means it may still not be the safest place to live, and as Hevey's play approaches a climax it does feel as if it's losing focus somewhat; although John Young's production does its best to keep everything together. Its attempt to explore a number of different points of view in a relatively short play means We Know Where You Live doesn't always hit the mark*, but when looking at attempts to preserve history - and the fact that not all history consists of things people people will actually want to remember - it's at its strongest.

We Know Where You Live by Steven Hevey is booking in repertory until the 18th of August at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

*there's also not one but two scenes where someone tells a story that ends "...and that person was me!" which is one hell of a cheesy trope

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