A homeless man, out on the streets, in the depths of angry despair, at rock bottom. A friendly face appears, a sympathetic hand of companionship, someone who apparently cares: he has been found. But what happens if the
homeless man just doesn’t want to be found?
Paul Bridger’s smart little play shows empathy, knowledge and understanding in its depiction of life as a street-dosser, life as one of those untouchable dregs of society that we step over as we go to shops and theatres and high-end restaurants. Bridger knows his subject because he’s been out there with the vagrants, the beggars, the down-and- outs, collecting their stories, listening to their troubles, attempting to fathom out their issues and complexities: this makes for good drama and Homeless Comforts is a compelling watch.
Bridger himself takes on the role of Martin, a man who has as much rejected society as society has rejected him. The show opens with a clever device, an audio of a radio programme about homelessness that takes Martin as one of
its two subjects for investigation. As we meet him, huddled cold and damp, on the street, Alana (Elizabeth Cachia) appears, neatly dressed in suburban chic, taking photos of the street-layabouts: dangerous trade! Martin is rightly
angered and breaks her camera thus beginning a strange and, at times, tortured relationship as Alana probes his background and Martin probes her motivation. It’s like a grumpy old married couple: at times antagonistic, then
apologetic; sometimes cold, sometimes warm in frequent, hot-headed turns – both claiming they don’t need each other, but both unwilling to let go. Cachia is a perfect foil to Bridger’s abrasive Martin, starting as shrinking violet but showing her steel in standing up to Martin’s derisive and borderline abusive comments to her. She’s slightly too soft spoken at times but hers is an intelligent and thought-provoking performance.
There’s an excellent chemistry between the two actors, who, sympathetically directed by Al Carretta, paint a picture of simmering resentment as street-wisdom battles street-innocence to unfold a story that ultimately has a touch of the thriller about it. The theme of homelessness is high on the social agenda at the moment and this play gets to the heart of it, carefully resisting the temptation to go down the full-frontal poverty-porn route. The film I, Daniel Blake led the way recently in dealing with those at the bottom of the pile in society but here there is more dirt, more grime, more blood, sweat and tears and, yes, more reality than Ken Loach’s piece of unashamed celluloid propaganda. Bridger opines in his script that we are all just one unforeseen circumstance away from homelessness, a sobering thought in our unrelenting rush-to-the-cash society.
The show is complemented with an excellent soundscape by Carretta (guitars by Lak Bangar) which is instrumental in creating the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere as the story develops. There are some slightly odd lighting states and changes – back to simplicity, I would suggest – but these didn’t detract from the overall feel of authentic misery that pertains to those who, for whatever reason, find themselves desperate and alone without a warm and welcoming home to go to. “Reason” though is my one slight criticism of the script: Martin, in finally trying to explain to Alana how he got where he is, starts to stray into “Fathers-For-Justice” territory which – whilst being a perfectly legitimate reason for his predicament – pins a very specific label on him that doesn’t chime, in my opinion, with the character that has been painstakingly created. Bridger might want to have a look at that section to see if it’s really saying what he wants to say. Once again, though, it doesn’t detract from the overall accomplishment of producing work that informs the homelessness debate: well-written, well-acted, provocative and inspiring.
The show is produced by Three Way Productions and is part of the always excellent Camden Fringe at the Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms: a great space producing wonderful theatre – of which Homeless Comforts is a prime example.
Review by Peter Yates
Alana frequently passes the enigmatic Martin, a local homeless man. She attempts to peel back the barriers he puts up against a society that ignores him, learning she has more in common with him than she believed possible. What draws her to him? Why is he so evasive? What secrets hide? We are all potentially one life event away from being homeless.
At The Etcetera Theatre