Outside In at In Malvern Cube 26th May 2021
What is home? What does it mean to be without a home? This latest play from Reaction Theatre Maker’s Director Tiffany Hosking, performed at Malvern Cube’s Theatre was in its very early stages just as the first Covid lockdown happened in March 2020. The intervening months saw the homeless crisis worsen as most were sent off the streets and into temporary accommodation (Outside In) only to be tipped back onto the streets with very little notice.
We follow the main characters, Robyn (who has left home because of family conflict over their non-binary gender identity) and ‘Rat-man’ (whose real name, Adam, is not revealed until towards the end of the play.) Lack of identity is one of the consistent features of this look at what it means to be without a home in 21st century Britain. The touching and beautiful friendship that develops between the two culminates in an extraordinary gut-punching speech from Robyn at the end where she delivers a tour-de force defending her friend who has sacrificed what little he has in order to help her gain work as a performance poet. Robyn’s speech is a crie de coeur for every person who has become invisible as a human being, simply because they have no fixed address.
A play that draws on such material might be short on humour, but Outside In is rich in it. ‘Rat-Man’ played by Mark Lee Jones and his encounters with the officious staff at the DWP/Social services delivers some of the strongest humour in his Black Country accent: “Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT fun to stay at the YMCA !” The DWP staff are caricatured to be absurdly inhuman as their officious accusations that Ratman and his ilk have all made themselves “Intentionally homeless” and therefore deserve no help. Conversely, it is Rat-Man himself, despite his own sufferings, who is kind, non-judgemental and genuinely loving towards his new street friend, Robyn. He gives her all his savings (for a phone) at one point to pay for a train fare to London.
The post-show discussion was as valuable and insightful as the play. Paul, an audience member, who had spent 25 years on the streets and was one of the many contributors and voices used by Tiffany Hosking in writing Outside In, shared eloquently about his life. Through a voice breaking with emotion he expressed the wish that more people could see the play and that we do not be hypocrites who watch for entertainment today and forget about it tomorrow.
As a piece of Theatre, Outside In is slick and imaginative. Three simple sets on wheels become bus shelters, under a bridge, the social services offices a 4* hotel, a flat. Music is performed live and recorded, adding moments to reflect on what we are seeing and a scene where a puppet man made of newspaper tells his story of abuse, foster care, running away and the loss of his mother is perhaps one of the most moving of all.
Outside In is a beautiful, sad portrait of the lives of thousands of people who are living in tents in doorways, buses, and temporary hostels in the fifth richest nation in the world and it is hard not to feel ashamed.
As I left The Cube that evening, I made a promise to myself that I would not be one of the hypocrites described by Paul in the audience, but that I would do whatever I am able to, to help. I encourage you to see this play and I encourage theatres up and down Britain to stage it. It’s brilliant.
By: Bernadette Kearney
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