It’s commonly stated that first impressions are formed in three seconds. Lung Theatre Company arrest the audience in those three seconds, and don’t let go.
From the outset, the show is loud, it’s angry, it’s energetic. It’s “activism meets theatre, bigger than just a play,” says scriptwriter Helen Monks. True. This play will surely challenge all who see it to wake up to its cause, as it agitates the question of dwindling social housing, focusing on a campaign in London E15 by young mums faced with eviction by Newham Council.
What sets E15 apart from other plays designed to raise social awareness is the heart-warming story at its centre: the hope espoused by Focus E15, this group of individuals who are actually doing something for themselves. Their refusal to be mere victims of the system, and to fight for the right to a house if not a home, is infectious. Contrary to expectation again, they aren’t asking for something merely to be done for them; they are asking people to join them. They make it fun, too.
The set is lively, walls covered in provocative banners: “social housing not social cleansing” and “repopulate the Carpenters!” are but two. The Carpenters Estate is one of Focus E15’s success stories, the council having finally agreed to house 40 evictees there temporarily, even as it’s set aside for developers.
The actors of Lung become their characters, switching accents and roles with ease. Their timing throughout this tightly choreographed piece is impeccable. Stereotypes are refreshingly challenged. Politicians have made “single mums” a hackneyed phrase, yet E15 gives names, voices and histories to actual people.
The script is jam-packed with scary statistics, which can only prompt shock and outrage at the plight of vulnerable young Londoners like those characterised here – excluded by private landlords, disadvantaged by land sales to developers which put them at risk of being moved to cities far away.
This is a play that should be staged at Westminster. In the meantime, don’t miss it on Northern Stage at Summerhall.