The Streets of London, Brighton Fringe

by Luisa De la Concha Montes

Homelessness might not seem like a stage-friendly topic. With the announcement of new laws that might further criminalise rough sleeping, it could seem risky to explore such a complex topic on stage. However, The Streets of London, produced and performed by Amy Wakeman, perfectly balances humour, statistics and verbatim theatre to open the audience’s mind to a topic that is too easily ignored.

The play combines different mediums, such as video, pre-recorded audio and animation, to tell us about Julie, a woman that ended up on the streets after being let down by the care system as a child. The play starts with Julie writing a letter to Rishi Sunak, inviting him to spend a night in her tent to really understand what it is like to be homeless. She is addressing Sunak, but she is also subtly addressing the audience. This gives us insight into a lifestyle that most audience members are potentially unfamiliar with.

Sourced from Wakeman’s work with homeless people over ten years, it is clear that this play is written by someone that is not looking from the outside in, but that is actually emotionally involved with the community it portrays. It does not shy away from confrontation, as it openly forces us to remember our body language around homeless people, and the way iwe uncomfortably walk around them or avoid making eye contact. Bluntly put, the emotions it triggers are not easy to navigate, but in a country like the UK where homelessness is normalised, this is extremely needed.

Amy Wakeman’s performance is gripping; from the cockney accent to the styling of the character, everything about her personification is utterly believable. Julie’s energy is contagious. She quickly steals our hearts with jokes, tender stories about her mum, and quirky interactions with the audience, such as drawing a stick man on a balloon and then gifting it to an audience member whilst telling him it’s a painting of him.

In one scene, she recollects her love story with a fellow homeless man. Feelings of smugness transpire, making us root for them. However, she soon expresses how her addiction, and her lack of self-control when drinking alcohol, made their one-night romance fall through the cracks. By mixing humorous storytelling with the sobering reality of her condition, Julie’s narrative allows us to see beyond the assumptions we have about homeless people, humanising her condition. At the end of the show we are told that Julie’s character is inspired on a real person that Amy met outside Vauxhall station, bringing the story full circle with a poignant end.

In the context of the cost-of-living crisis, The Streets of London is a must-see. It urges us to see the problem beyond statistics and understand that this is a systemic issue needing urgent focus. By forcing us to listen to Julie’s story, it bursts our bubble of privilege, making us aware that the reason why we feel discomfort about the topic is because it is closer than we like to think, as it affects 1 in 280 people in England. Or, in Julie’s words: “Let me give you some tips, in case you end up homeless like me, you never know.” Simply put, it is a harsh play, but it wouldn’t work otherwise, as harshness is needed to spotlight an issue that we are all guilty of comfortably walking past.

The Streets of London runs through 28 May.

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