How do you give unrepresented young people a voice? Well, first of all you listen to them. In this sharp and informed piece of verbatim theatre, director Nadia Fall has done just that — interviewing residents and staff in one of East London’s biggest hostels, before channelling as many of their experiences as possible into a production that feels at once sharply choreographed and deliciously spontaneous.
From Fall’s 30 or so hours of collected footage springs Target East, a fictional refuge built to house truthful accounts, which positions the audience as the interviewer. While little interaction is demanded of us, characters double-take as they remember they are being observed, and their narratives anticipate our questions, adding a vein of dialogue to the play. With the odd flirtation or nervous glance at the audience, the cast delivers honest and sharp responses to questions that may well have been triggered from the plot so far, pre-empting any prejudices that may spring from their situations.
Chances are, you won’t be surprised by the stories in this world of teen pregnancies and yoof bravado, but this strength of this play does not come from these accounts alone. HOME is a close and patient look at the pieces left when Britain breaks, and a celebration of the people and resources dedicated to putting them back together. Cast as the silent interviewer, we get a first-hand insight into the nourishing value of these centres, as the characters gain confidence from their interactions with us. “Lorry? You know “lorry”?” asks Refugee Eritrean Girl to an unspecified individual in the first row. “Lorry” she then asserts, confident in new bridge of understanding. Kadiff Kirwan’s Singing Boy winces under our wordless questioning, and Richard Ryder’s voice direction shows through here as sentences either trail off or rise into needy upward inflections in soundbites of authenticity. Singing Boy’s trust grows until is ready to offer us a version of Beyonce’s Halo, before humbly thanking us for our applause. At Target East, right in front of our eyes, confidence is being built.
It was a brilliant decision to house this exploration of homelessness in the temporary location of The Shed, and designer Ruth Sutcliffe has developed what feels like a found space with a serious respect for detail. So true and functional is the design, as you enter the auditorium it’s easy to ignore the whiteboards where meetings are scheduled, a parked pushchair and the chlamydia pamphlets. Sutcliffe continues this authentic hostel vibe with a shatterproof window, which splits the stage. Through a pane clouded with fingerprints, we gain a fresh and insightful view of how day to day life in the centre continues outside the structured setting of the interview.
HOME is strong enough that it doesn’t need to be sentimental to get its point across, and the greatest laughs come at the expense of officious security guard Mr Stevenson, who is interrupted and undermined with Tattoo Boy’s breezy greeting, “Easy Stevenson! You alright, bruv?”. Ashley McGuire also gets the balance between personable and pragmatic spot on in her portrayal of hostel manager Sharon, who champions the “whole-istic” nature of her centre between swift marches across the stage, always clutching a large bunch of keys with a characterising flair.
In tune with the pacey musicality of the entire production — raw songs accompanied by acoustic guitar bring a certain sanctity to Target, shuffled Rihanna megamixes shine bright on manipulative relationships and rap brings new energy to downbeat stories — one wordless character truly captivates. This character is the pregnant young woman who rejects the verbatim form of this production, instead delivering her story through body language and beatboxing. Brought to life by twice UK Female Beatbox Champion, Grace Savage, Jade is a reminder of the stories that won’t fit into the play. In a production that gently alerts us to squeezed resources, it’s also a reminder of our own individual and societal responsibility to answer the question posed by Sharon at the piece’s conclusion: “Well, what are we going to do with you then?”.
HOME is playing at The Shed at the National Theatre. For more information and tickets visit the NT’s website.