This was another excellent little production by my favourite am dram group ACT (Arts Centre Theatre) directed by Jason Kenyon. Titled Homeless I had no preconceptions about it. Indeed on wandering into the lobby area beforehand there was a tramp asleep on the stairs – strange, where was security? Two more ragged characters were skulking in the bar area. I copped on eventually.
In the auditorium a couple with tickets for the front row found a couple of vagrants in their seats – who reluctantly shifted along. At various points in the evening many of the cast slipped into the auditorium and became part of the audience.
No lead roles in this one, the stronger characters in the group were rendered equal simply by their homeless state. The street people formed a loose collective, each grimly aware of their status in the world, each wary and even contemptuous of any form of authority.
The performance is underpinned by the narrator, the excellent Fi Marchant, who considers the story behind by the prominent chalked outline of a recently-deceased body. We hear about that person’s downfall. We hear the back stories of three more of the homeless group; a bloke kicked out of his parents’ home for being gay; a husband and father turned alcoholic after his family are killed with him at the wheel; a Russian girl trafficked into the sex trade. It could be you…or me.
Sian Jones, playing a fresh-faced and idealistic social worker, is crushed by the truths, the realities that are thrown back at her by her street-wise ‘clients’. She is not of them and therefore is against them despite her best intentions. No wonder even the best of professional social workers are gradually reduced to damage limitation and box ticking.
Early in the piece there is a scene where two blokes, out on the town, gaily piss on a sleeping tramp, cheered on by one of their women. (The other woman is at least seen to have a conscience). To these ‘normal’ people the homeless ones are worthless.
This performance tries to demonstrate that ‘homeless’ is not a single state to be attacked, tolerated or dealt with. It is made up of individuals, and behind each ragged individual is a back story which has led them to this place. Happy, stable and contented folk who have had a bit of bad luck or who have inadvertently taken a wrong turn in life.
And, crucially, the significance of an insignificant life is that, but for the grace of God, the life could be yours…or mine.