Nadia Fall’s Home is an example of just how powerful verbatim theatre as a medium can be when it’s done right. Set in an East London homeless hostel for young people, the play draws on over thirty hours of interviews with residents and staff in the sector.
Ruth Sutcliffe’s set takes the audience through the foyer of the hostel, and the script has the characters directly address us, as interviewers. They jostle with each other to tell us their stories, and we feel like interlopers, albeit welcome ones.
Among the characters we hear from are an Eritrean Christian fleeing religious persecution, an ex-resident who feels compelled to return to the place, and a cockney whose racist rant is undermined by mention of his Turkish girlfriend. Jade (Grace Savage), a pregnant woman who communicates entirely through beat-boxing, contributes to the varied soundtrack that keeps the show’s momentum through its less dramatic moments.
Here are people in all their complexities, co-existing in the no-man’s land of temporary accommodation. Home manages to make important points – that there are no council houses, that working-class young people in London are regarded with disdain by many – without losing it’s sense of place and time. We know this is East London, the riots of 2011 and the Olympics of 2012 cast their shadow. Underlying the whole piece is the death of a former resident, Daniel, who was stabbed in Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre.
“I’ll probably have two houses,” says Bullet (Shakka), when asked to describe his dream home. Just for a moment, it doesn’t seem so fanciful, because we have been taken into the characters’ aspirations so convincingly. Certainly it’s less of a fantasy than the speech of the priest (Jonathan Coote) who presides over a memorial service to Daniel with an asinine prayer. I couldn’t help but think that he was a mirror for the National Theatre audience, the vast majority of whom looked and sounded far more like him than any other character.
Home deals with its subject matter without judgement, but not without sympathy. It is a surprisingly uplifting piece, which serves as an important contribution to the discussion about London’s ‘lost generation.’
Home runs until 7th September at the National Theatre Shed, box office 020 74523244.