Writer: Tim Green
Director: Joe Murphy & Ben Pettitt-Wade
A co-production between Hijinx, one of Europe’s leading inclusive theatre companies, and Sherman Theatre, which focuses on nurturing Wales-based artists and championing Welsh stories with global resonance, Housemates was always going to be good… But, with its incredibly talented cast, nuanced and thoughtful storytelling, and inspiring real-life origin story taking place in a house just a stone’s throw away from the theatre itself, it exceeds expectations and is – truly – spectacular.
Set in 1970s Cardiff, Housemates follows first-year Zoology student, Jim (Peter Mooney), as he volunteers at Ely Hospital, an institution that, by law, is responsible for the care of ‘sub-normal and extremely sub-normal’ people. Shocked by the fact that most residents ‘had never even been to a park before’ – as well as a litany of abuse scandals filling the national press – Jim begins what would turn out to be a life-long campaign to end long-stay psychiatric institutions across the UK, starting with a never-before-seen experiment: creating a shared house with some of the patients.
At just over an hour long and using the characters’ shared discovery and love of music as a clever, pace-setting device, complete with a live-band performing 70s rock and roll classics, Housemates unravels the story of Ely Hospital’s dark history and its path to change, leaving the audience aghast and awestruck in equal measure.
As Jim, Mooney is convincing and incredibly likeable, while Natasha Cottriall as Sally, his housemate and co-campaigner, provides a counterpoint to Jim’s earnestness, bringing lightness and gentle riffs. Eveangeleis Tudball offers a brilliant performance as the world-weary Nurse Julie, one of the play’s central characters, and delivers many of the play’s laugh-out-loud one-liners – particularly in her interactions with John (Matthew Mullins); “watch out for him – he’s a biter”. The characterisation of Alan (Gareth John) and Heather (Lindsay Foster) – based on two, real patients who were part of the ‘housemates’ experiment at Ruthin Gardens – is almost unbearably moving, as the actors deliver warm, emotional performances, infused with humour and subtlety throughout.
Triumphantly thought-provoking about its hyper-local history, Housemates is really something special. The resounding line – that nobody who ever visited the house in Ruthin Gardens can talk about it without smiling – is as true for the play itself as the utterly astounding true story it’s based upon.
Runs until 14 October 2023