Many of us are aware of the current housing crisis in the UK, but how much do we really know? And what’s more, how many of us really understand what life is like for the young and homeless in the UK? These are issues which Nadia Fall’s Home, currently playing at the National Theatre Shed, seeks to address. Over the course of the evening, the audience is guided through life at Target East by its diverse and eclectic mix of residents, creating a work that is shaded, engaging and incredibly timely.
The collage of characters that Fall creates, with the help of her immensely capable ten-strong cast, is definitely the highlight of Home. With nearly all the cast playing more than one role, the audience is really given a broad sense of who can find themselves in unfortunate circumstances such as these, how they might come to be there, and the hopes and disappointments of trying to stand on one’s own two feet. A beautiful opening gambit from Kadiff Kirwan about his relationship difficulties with his mother, which landed him in Target East, is not only touching and quietly vulnerable, but sets the tone for a work that takes the time to investigate, understand and sympathise with the wider, pressing problems going on surrounding homelessness.
The cast work wonderfully as an ensemble and create incredibly detailed performances that capture voices from all over the world: for example, Antonia Thomas’s enthralling storytelling as an Eritrean Girl, which really brings home to the audience just how vital places like Target East are for those who must flee their own homes and arrive in the UK, vulnerable, with nowhere to go. Moreover, Michaela Coel and Kadiff Kirwan bring a welcome light-heartedness to what is often a heavy or disturbing subject matter, lacing many of the stories together by acting as our guides through the building, so that the audience can get a sense of what daily life is like and how the residents of Target East come to co-exist. Grace Savage is an exciting addition to the cast: a professional beat boxer by trade, Savage uses her skills to create the character of Jade, exploring through sound and music the frequent frustrations felt by residents and the issues with communication that many young homeless people may have with those who have the power to offer housing solutions.
Where often the issue of homelessness is characterised by statistics and headlines, the strong and engaging character work in Home makes it an intensely personal piece. Indeed, it is unfortunate that at times, Home does veer towards the sentimental – the gravity of some moments undercut by the cast offering acoustic or a capella renditions of well-known songs. While the execution of these musical interludes itself is pitch perfect, in a piece that has such an important message, and so much potential to offer in terms of character and story, it is unfortunate that emotional charge is sometimes dissipated by a decision that does not give the piece more depth or breadth – instead, it often slows the pace, leaving the piece feeling slightly long-winded.
Equally, the documentary style of the play is both interesting and unusual, giving cause for question as to why the piece is so vital to see on stage, rather than, for example, on television. While Ruth Sutcliff’s design gives our imaginary Target East two floors and lovely depth, with the audience able to see into Target East’s ‘reception’ area behind the stage, this style does sometimes mean the play lacks drama, as so much of the information is reported rather than the issues played out. Moreover, numerous audience members were wrong-footed by the play’s red herring of an ending, with Fall having appended a new section (since the previous run in August 2013) that describes the fate of many of Target East’s staff and residents. While the information given is relevant, again the straightforward delivery which verges on didacticism undercuts the subtlety that Fall had so expertly captured with many earlier moments.
This is all to say that, where Home might have made its point just as well by interweaving the stories and interactions of its fascinating characters together into a kaleidoscope of experience, instead the play at times stumbles into stating its purpose and encouraging the audience to pity its characters, rather than necessarily find a solution to the problems that so badly need addressing by us all. Nonetheless, despite the form not always serving the content as best as it might, with its lively performances and clever staging, Home is certainly worthy viewing at a time when the topic of homelessness is largely swept under the rug by theatres, politicians and the public alike.
Home is playing at the National Theatre Shed until 30 April. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.