The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 1st February, 2017
Written and directed by Alexander Zeldin, this highly naturalistic piece transforms the REP’s studio space into the communal area of a grubby hostel, supposedly temporary accommodation for those who, for one reason or another, have no home to go to. We meet Tharwa (Hind Swareldahab) a Muslim woman who keeps herself to herself for the most part; Colin (Nick Holder) who cares for his elderly, incontinent mother Barbara (Anna Calder-Marshall); in the room next door is a family, evicted due to sudden rent hikes. There is dad Dean (Luke Clarke), his two kids and his new, pregnant partner, Emma (Janet Etuk). Late arrival from Syria, Adnan (Ammar Haj Ahmad) finds it difficult to interact with his new neighbours…
The play provides a snapshot of life in these terrible conditions. Yes, they have hot water and a roof over their heads (complete with dirty skylights), and a toilet they have to share, and there are people in the world who have things much worse. But this is Britain in 2017 and people are trapped in this purgatory by unnecessarily draconian benefit sanctions and a lack of housing stock. At times, it’s a gruelling watch.
It’s also funny and moving. The resilience of the human spirit, the bonds of relationships – sorely tested by circumstance – shine through. The characters struggle to retain their dignity and their morale while a faceless, careless bureaucracy continues to pile on the pressure.
The cast are, without exception, pitch perfect as they shuffle around. Natasha Jenkins’s set replicates the setting perfectly, and the blurring of where stage ends and audience begins makes us part of the action, silent observers of the dramas unfolding before us. This is happening in our space, our country, and we cannot help but feel compassion for these downtrodden and dispossessed souls.
Zeldin’s direction keeps the pace natural. The piece reeks of authenticity. That we don’t learn the characters’ ultimate fates maintains the sense of never-ending struggle.
An important, eye-opening and heartrending play that Iain Duncan Smith should be made to watch over and over so that he realises what he has wrought.