Alexander Zeldin’s new play ‘Love’ is a devised, character driven study of life in temporary accommodation. There are tens of thousands of families and individuals applying for accommodation due to homelessness in England last year and the six week legal stay in hostels is frequently over-run. If it sounds bleak, it is. With the strip lighting on the audience as well as the stage, there is no-where to hide when it comes to this window onto our very real housing crisis.

Designer, Natasha Jenkins has literally turned the Dorfman theatre into a soulless communal area, reminiscent of faded GP’s surgeries or council waiting rooms, with glimpses into the over-crowded bedrooms where lives are stuffed for far longer than is bearable or legal. It’s so detailed, it could be the set for a Ken Loach film.

The warmth of the characters and the exceptional naturalism from the eight actors rescues ‘Love’ from being a dismal piece of socially conscious theatre. Brummie gentle giant played by Nick Holder has been living for six months in a room with his ageing mother (Anna Calder-Marshall), washing her hair with washing up liquid in the communal kitchen sink, while unemployed Dean lives in the room next door with his two primary school age kids (Darcey Brown and Bobby Stalllwood) from a previous relationship and his heavily pregnant partner who is attempting to study ‘well-being’ in the crowded communal space. Sudanese Tharwa (Hind Swareldahab) who’s been separated from her family and Syrian ex-primary school teacher (Ammar Haj Ahmad) have much smaller roles, nervously entering the communal kitchen when no-one’s around and briefly coming to life when they speak Arabic together.

One of the joys of devised theatre is that actors inevitably play to their strengths with comic or touching moments emerging from an organic rehearsal process. One of the pit-falls of actor driven, devised theatre is that there is often little or no plot – it’s all in the detail. Luckily it’s strangely fascinating to watch an actor in a towelling robe make toast in real time.

Anyone who’s lived in a house-share knows the frustration of waiting for your turn in the bathroom and having you food stolen from the fridge but if you throw incontinence and getting kids to school in the mix, stress levels reach a whole new level. Not to mention the anxiety and instability when a baby is expected within weeks. Given these very real strains, it surprised me that everyone is so very nice in this imaginary hostel –they get a bit snappy, try and get in the toilet first and accuse each other of using their mug. But then they apologise. Profusely. I’ve never heard a play with so many apologies for relatively small misdemeanours. Are we all that nice? I hope so.

‘Love’ is a gentle slice of ‘real life’ where the minutiae of family life thrown into a hostel is examined with warmth and compassion. There are far more dangerous, compelling dramas that could have been devised – clearly this was a deliberate decision to make this drama ordinary not extraordinary. A reminder that this is reality for many thousands of people this Christmas.
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