Writer/Director: Cressida Brown
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
There is such a stigma still attached to inner city estates – high-rise tower blocks that loom over a neighbourhood and cast a menacing shadow. Within the barbed wire fences of these estates lie gangs of youths whose sole purpose seems to be intrinsically linked with drugs, crime and murder. But these buildings are also home to communities, the older generation and younger families alike – some have lived in the area all their lives while others are simply trying to make enough money to get by. Cressida Brown’s Re:Home revisits one of these estates; the Beaumont Estate Towers were demolished in 2005 and replaced with low-rise housing, but the majority of residents chose instead to move away from the area. Re:Home is a sequel from Brown’s initial work Home, which was filmed three months before the demolition.
The four cast members re-enact different personalities and characters from this documented exercise – all of the script is taken from interviews that the director/writer,has conducted with people in the area. Snippets of interviews are interspersed with film footage from both then and now, quick fire action to keep the production impactful. In combination with designer Georgia Lowe, Brown has made clever use of the wooden platforms that form the stage. The characters are able to jump around (almost like children on an adventure playground) and relay their stories on different levels. Sometimes anonymous testimonials are read from paper, while other times the cast leap around, under and even through the stage in an attempt to convey the variety of personalities that actually inhabited the estate. It’s not all knife crime and ASBOs.
The disjointed plot seems to focus overall on four young boys, all around 10-11 at the time of the demolition. Brown projects group video interviews of these boys while the characters emulate their body language on stage. At this age, the children are cocky, headstrong and arrogant. But they also display naïve innocence, a bravado that goes with making claims that they don’t truly have any comprehension of. The boys speak nervously in front of camera and then act out to show off their alpha male-qualities; Rose Riley, in particular, is well cast for this. Suddenly the scene switches to the other end of the spectrum – three of the older residents are interviewed. Waleed Akhtar, Hasan Dixon and Riley are endearing and well characterised, happy and smiling despite the difficult lives they have led. But the focus seems to be on the children, as the play concludes with some of the now grown-up youths reflecting on their childhood. T’Nia Miller has swagger and is assured, but also grounded and aspirational, “It’s not the people that got the reputation. It’s the area”.
The play is impactful, no doubt about it. But it is also confused and jumpy. Can a play built entirely from resident testimonials be enough of a story, enough of a plot? Or is Brown using cleverly conceived devices as smoke and mirrors, a distraction from the weakly woven core of this production? The concept of the then-and-now is to be applauded, but the structure could be more carefully considered. Otherwise, this play is a documentary with no message.
Runs until 5 March 2016 | Image: Contributed