The Marked, Theatre Témoin, devised and performed by Dorie Kinnear, Tom Stacy, Samuel Fogell, directed by Ailin Conant, The Other Place, Brighton Fringe, Brighton, Saturday 7th May, 2pm.
Homelessness is a big subject to tackle, and as professional, inventive, disciplined and rewarding as this production is, this is still a difficult review to write when the subject matter is so disturbing, upsetting and fraught and touches on so very many issues.
People sleeping on the streets, with nowhere to go, is a very common sight in London and Brighton, but, surprise, surprise, it's in no way limited to these two places, or to the UK or to this time. Refugee camps, shanty towns, are familiar images on the nightly news. I grew up in a town in Australia where Aborigines were fringe dwellers, living under sheets of corrugated iron on river banks, somehow sending their children to school each day.
Just as Australian society included the Aboriginals, our society now includes those who have no home. In Australia the Aborigines were defined by the non-Aboriginal population in two contradictory ways. They were infantile, or childlike; they weren't allowed the vote until the shameful year of 1967, for example. They were to blame for their situation.
These characteristics can be seen to be applied to homeless people in our own cities and towns. They are childlike; they don't have the things which define adulthood, a home, a job, a bank account for example. They are to blame for their situation.
What was clear to me, growing up, was what the existence of the fringe dwellers did to the non-Aboriginal people. It made them cruel. It introduced a deformity into their society, it affected their dealings not just with the Aborigines, but with each other.
Why was this allowed to happen, to continue? In Australia it was all about the land. It used to belong to the Aborigines and now it didn't.
In the UK? It's all about the land, property.
A home, as the Maya Angelou quote that Theatre Témoin includes in their programme says, is a 'safe place', where we can find ourselves, where we are an adult human being, where we have an identity.
Or it's an asset. The homeless on our streets are clear proof that our homes can't be both.
This play, The Marked, employs techniques and devices from children's theatre, puppetry, character transformations, simple set devices, grotesques, etc. to tell the story of a young man, recently finding himself homeless, who meets a young couple, struggling not to fall into the same situation themselves.
Using children's theatre to present the characters' efforts not to be defined as children, as a metaphor for the way these people are judged and dismissed, is a very promising beginning.
A play, presented at Brighton Fringe, and later in Edinburgh, which is intended for a liberal, middle class audience who, best intentions aside, will be in the clutches of the exact same paradox regarding the homeless: they are children incapable of helping themselves; they are responsible for their situation, is shouldering a great responsibility. There is a danger that presenting this subject in the context of a children's play can teeter on the edge of reinforcing the the audience's prejudices. Blaming the victim is a very attractive and simple way of not confronting the truth.
To unpick this paradox at the centre of such a major social ill, to make the audience for which this play is intended, to look again at the issues surrounding rough sleeping, to make it clearly understood that we are all to blame, that this is a fact about the society we live in now, today, the production needs to be clear about exactly where it stands in relation to this central contradiction.
The Aborigines in the town where I grew up weren't children. They were adults struggling with unbelievably difficult circumstances. And they weren't responsible for their situation. We all were.
As much as I enjoyed this play, as much as I appreciated the skill and technique and discipline of the acting, the clever and attractive set, the costumes, the attention to detail, I left uncertain as to exactly what they were trying to say.
But this is a great beginning, the characters are real and attractive, the use of puppets and the set elements is fun, (love the pigeons) and this is a subject that is so rarely treated with seriousness and sympathy, the homeless are either invisible or are just a cliché in so many films and television dramas, that to see these characters being given their own voice is long overdue.
To use children's theatre to present such a complex and difficult story is very ambitious; I look forward to seeing where The Marked goes from here.