GUTTED

HOME MCR 

Performer Liz Richardson 

A co-production between The Conker Group and HOME

I first saw GUTTED in May 2016 and it was one of my favourite pieces at HOME last  year. This is a show about the impact of ulcerative colitis on a young womans life On stage is Liz with some bunches of flowers and three gleaming porcelain toilets filled with food items. I’m fairly squeamish and I don’t especially like yoghurt or ketchup or brown sauce, yet here I am back to see this show again. 

It feels impossible not to be drawn in by Liz Richardsons performance. She is understated and charming on stage, and wickedly adept at mimicry of friends, family and NHS staff. The performance is never preachy and perhaps also protects the performer by relying on much of Richardsons experience being relayed through the conversations  of others and the messages on cards from her Partner and her Mother which are read out by audience members. Its striking that the whole performance feels deeply personal yet avoids the performer ever saying “I” or “My.”

Instead the audience is fed beer and cake while Liz scoffs probiotic yoghurt and draws her digestive system on her bare tummy and shows us how an ileostomy bag functions. Throughout this frank and funny performance runs the darker thread of pain, frustration and fear. This is an illness that is ruthless and wretched yet when drug or surgical options succeed it can bring hope and be positively life changing.

This is a show that is likely to pick up terms like “brave” or “life affirming”,and it is. I suspect it is also honed from the generosity of spirit that shares experience so we can all learn and be the better for it. GUTTED packs a hefty punch in that it paints a messy picture of what can happen when our bodies fail but it also reassures. Regardless of serious illness and multiple surgeries Richardson  looks great, has a loving relationship and a child and is doing a job she clearly enjoys. 

Chatting in the bar after the performance it’s clear how important this show is in speaking for many sufferers and their families. The show has been touring  in both theatres and hospitals to patients and healthcare professionals. It opens up lively discussion about a taboo subject and I found myself remembering my glamourous Grandma who throughout the 1960s wore her lipstick and her ileostomy bag with the style and panache of someone who refused to be defined by her illness.

2nd-13th August – Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh 

ROSE

HOME, Manchester

 

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Written by Martin Sherman

Directed by Richard Beecham

Performed by Janet Suzman

The curtain goes back to reveal a simple wooden bench on which a dimly lit Suzman sits. She informs us that she sitting Shiva. As she sits, we sit. As she speaks we listen. Stillness fills the main theatre space at HOME.  Suzman as Rose commands the stage alone for over 2 hours, and is mesmerizing

Rose is simply one voice and one story picked out and told from a history of displaced people all across the World and all through History. The potency of that one voice telling one story ensures that it feels impossible not to focus and engage. There are no distractions other than subtle touches of music and a beautifully simple  moodscape of  shifting colours as a backdrop.

The first half focuses on Roses early life with her family and her first marriage to the love of her life and the subsequent birth of her daughter Esther. The images of family life and lilac trees and smooth chested men is rich and evocative. As the story moves from  the ‘shtetls’ of Eastern Europe into Nazi occupied Warsaw the memories fragment as the horrors of the ghetto permeate her life.

The second act opens with the stage now filled with benches to sit Shiva. The result is haunting, so many benches for so many dead. The stark white simplicity is reminiscent of the rows of simple crosses marking the graves of  the war dead in so many cemeteries.

Rose is now a business woman, married with a son and speaking with the accent of her adopted country. She speaks of her life in America and the choices she makes about what she recalls and what she suppresses from past memories. Her son and grandchildren continue the theme of displacement and the battle to forge a new nations identity. Her journey from the ill fated Exodus ship and the bright hope of a homeland is tainted by later events in Israel and Palestine. “The milk was slightly sour, the honey a bit tart.”

This is a beautifully crafted script by Martin Sherman and is skilfully directed by Richard Beecham to ensure that Rose is vital and real. The play avoids the stereotypes of Jewish mothers and tells a story from 20th Century history without preaching.  The star of the show is of course Rose and rightly so, Janet Suzman is astounding as this warm yet brittle and wounded survivor. Her performance is subtle and understated but every look and movement is exact and illuminates Rose with depth and clarity.

History repeats itself and Rose has observed a century of the ebb and flow of peoples and their religions and cultures. It is timely that in the 21st Century we are revisiting this play as refugees flee their homes and seek uncertain welcomes and futures elsewhere.

At HOME until 10th June

 

Letters to Windsor House

HOME

By Sh!t Theatre

This the very best kind of pick and mix entertainment. Someone else on stage doing the karaoke, social and political commentary that never seeks to preach and an open letterbox giving a candid view of life for those at the more vulnerable end of the renting crisis in London.

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Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole are Sh!t Theatre and this is their very personal experience of  renting a sh!t flat in Windsor House, Hackney, North London. They share this two bedroom council flat with their friend Ruth who plans to move out to a houseboat and with Reggie the cat. The cramped space includes a pigeon sh!t splattered balcony and a hallway which has been converted to a makeshift garden. They pay nearly £500 each per month but have no contract so have no real security to safely call this home, especially when their curiosity reveals they are actually renting a sublet council flat.

Curled up on a sh!tty sofa as the audience walk in these best friends chat, sprawl and break into song just as they probably do around their home. The set also includes a disco ball, a cheery cotton rug and a pile of cardboard boxes. A projection screen is on the wall behind them with front of stage their mike stands connected to a loop pedal and two red cardboard post boxes.

Everything happens on stage in an endearing way that seems both childishly haphazard and skilfully engineered to fill this hour to achieve maximum impact. Using photos and video they walk us out of their cramped home unto the streets of this N4 neighbourhood. There are noisy Romanian neighbours they do sonic battle with at 7am, there is the local chippy #hashtag Fish & Chips, and the sometimes very loud St Johns Deaf Centre. Windsor House is one of 4 regally named blocks of council flats behind which is The Finsbury Park Homeless Family Project. Images of this rundown and depressing area appear on screen accompanied by a slick voiceover selling the merits of the new kids on the block. Woodberry Park is the second new private development to sit on the foundations  of the old council estates now demolished. These new properties are not for local families but are glossy six figure luxury flats with gyms and 24 hour concierge facilities.

Becca and Louise film themselves viewing a home they are unlikely to ever own as they are part of Generation rent. This is a moment where they fantasise about cushions in a £925,000 apartment. Back in their flat where the thin walls allow them no illusions about each others personal habits there is an ever growing sense of desperation about their future and an ever growing mound of mail representing the past lives of previous tenants.

It is human nature to be curious and often to prevaricate. Sh!t Theatre do both very well. Thanks to a quaint legal loophole they can start opening the mail. Like all our Christmases together the letters reveal colourful hints of other lives lived in Windsor House. A kaleidoscope of song, dance and social media feeds reveal Rob Jecock the adult baby or grief stricken single father, Daisy Murray and her magazine loving dad and Saad Madras who gambles his way into debt with the Turkish mafia. They buy aspirational shirts from catalogues like The House of Bruar. They cheerfully stalk their old neighbours in attempts to help them though no one appears to be interested in supporting or reassuring them re their own rental rights. In their search they are irrepressible singing silly songs, switching accents and clambering over sofas to build cardboard houses. This could have been an unholy mess.

There is a very different energy present when they break up their search to don the anonymity of their red cardboard post boxes. Here they read each other heartfelt personal letters from the sanctity of the post box as confessional. It is these moments which highlight the social housing crisis in a way that transcends shocking statistics. Ordinary loving friends who are both petrified of change and desperate to embrace new opportunities. Windsor House is for now both a refuge and a prison.

Postscript:

Ruth moves to a houseboat.

Becca moves out after a row.

Louise still lives in Windsor House.

Friendship survives.

Sh!t Theatre continues to develop new work.

The shirts from House of Bruar cost £65 each and are sh!t quality according to Louise.