Focus E15 Hostel in east London isn’t the lap of luxury. Far from it – it’s the last resort of dozens of people who would otherwise end up on the streets. The dedicated mother and baby unit is a particular refuge for young women and their babies with no where else to go. That is, until the council serves them an eviction notice so they can sell the land to property developers. Promises of rehousing have been undermined by stories of families being moved outside of the borough, sometimes hours outside of London and away from everything they know. Angered by the unfeeling power government officials wield over their lives, the mothers from Focus E15 organise and launch an attack on those that favour profit over people. Their campaign is captured in verbatim play E15, a piece that is part political rally and part documentary.
One of the drawbacks to verbatim performance is that material is usually sourced in one-to-one interviews, so dialogue between characters is either limited or artificially constructed. Though this is evident here, placing much of the action within a protest or occupation keeps energy up, and monologuing makes more sense in this context. It would be great to see more in-depth character interaction though, particularly between the mothers, in order to develop a greater sense of the community their work hinges on.
The cast’s confidence and conviction are infectious, and the DIY-style set design lends a further sense of grassroots unity. The party that’s going on when the audience enters sets an upbeat, relaxed tone that soon shifts to the tenants’ grim reality – an excellent contrast.
Fortunately, the Focus E15 residents have some effect, but their campaign must on – what happened to them is happening to others. E15 successfully brings the audience to their side and encourages awareness and campaigning, but the verbatim text lacks the anger that is kept in check in the interview process. This is a story that would have more emotional immediacy with a script informed by their testimony rather than constructed from it. The production certainly has plenty of merit and is well performed by the ensemble cast but in this instance, the verbatim script serves to distance rather than bring these people fully to life.
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