Theatre Review | Home Truths: Cardboard Citizens makes acute drama out of housing crisis
By Ruby Fischer
The Bunker, London
CARDBOARD Citizens’ Home Truths is both an exploration of homelessness and a provocative reminder of the privilege of “homefulness” in a country which uses twice as much land for golf courses as for housing.
It’s an “incomplete history” of nine short plays divided into three cycles, each focusing in their own way on the issue of housing over the past 250 years.
The final cycle begins with a rendition of Gus Elen’s classic music hall number The Houses in Between and goes on to present a world shaped by a limbo-like sense of ambiguity and disorientation.
The first, Henrietta, introduces the eponymous heroine — an enchanting and versatile Caroline Loncq — whose purgatorial reunion with her late husband culminates in the question: “What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?” while Nostalgia takes us to a “little place” where Anna struggles to navigate the ever-shrinking four walls around her as she suffers from a disease no-one believes is real, let alone fatal.
In Grip, Lorna discovers she has terminal cancer just a few days before being evicted and is plunged into a nightmarish world of bureaucratic dead-ends.
All three characters live in their own fragmented world of isolation and timelessness in this charged and acutely relevant new work. Each are paralysed by the “bigger forces” which decree that “those who can’t pay, can’t stay.”
The Bunker is a perfect venue for a piece very much of the grassroots, with James Turner’s set design, complemented by a subtle fog which hangs over the action, transforming the space into a borderless landscape.
The patchwork of elements — a square of wallpaper and a wooden window frame — evoke the sense of a dismantled reality which “cannot be realigned by privet hedges alone.”
Tom Parkinson and Lewis Gibson’s sound design heightens the touch of surrealism with its dreamlike quality, although Augusto Boal’s principles of making theatre as an act of liberation and empowerment, espoused by Cardboard Citizens, prevents us from entirely losing ourselves in sentimentality.
Retaining a critical perspective is an essential response to a production which challenges audiences to consider what it truly means to have a place to hang your hat.