Pros: A bright, enthusiastic cast expressing themselves with energy and commitment.
Cons: Abstract ideas are sometimes difficult to follow.
The Hackney Downs Studio isn’t the most accessible venue in London. Situated at the Stoke Newington end of Hackney, it took me a train and a bus to reach it. The venue itself is clean and efficient, giving the impression of a warehouse from the outside. The programme notes looked immediately promising, asking why children across the world leave their homes to live in hostels, shelters or worse still the streets. Football is presented as the ideal analogy to illustrate this issue. So, on the eve of the World Cup in Brazil, I expected a gripping tale of children from the flavelas using football as an escape from depravation and poverty.
However, we were confronted with something very different.The audience were led into a bare warehouse with no seating accommodation. Instead, the audience were invited to walk around living exhibits. Girl # 1 was on the floor planting flowers in a bathtub, Man # 1 was fighting a losing battle with a skipping rope, Girl # 2 was rolling around the floor wrapped in a duvet; Man # 2 was practicing ball control…and so it went on. With the audience strolling around the performance area, I initially wasn’t certain who the performers were. Individual characters began to speak, occasionally in Portuguese telling their story. Flowers were heavily symbolic; one girl carried shoulder high was at one point draped in flowers. This portion of the show wasn’t easy to follow, it was basically setting out a series of events when a young person becomes homeless and hits the streets; sleeping rough, scheming to stay alive, but all too frequently their story ends in death.
The second portion of the show was an altogether more uplifting experience. Performers laid out a huge synthetic football pitch, which forced the audience to the edge, thrown together as football fans. Goalposts were lit in luminous purple, the previously homeless guys and girls were transformed into a football team clad in all white with names emblazoned on their backs, and dozens of footballs were emptied onto the pitch. I saw one guy convert 19 out of 20 penalties, I thought wow, England need him in Brazil! The team acted out an imaginary game of football celebrating survival, life and hope. At the end of the game, the team invited the audience onto the pitch where we all laid on the floor; we were asked to look up at the stars…cue Oscar Wilde…we may all be in the gutter but some of us are looking up to the stars.
Overall, Turfed is a worthwhile production that undoubtedly has its heart in the right place. However, the show was sometimes hard work and could easily go over your head if you weren’t paying close attention. Even so, theatre is all about challenging convention and being different, and director Renato Rocha and his young, exuberant cast deserve much credit for cramming so much into a 45 minute slot.
Director: Renato Rocha
Producer: LIFT/Momentum Arts
Composer: Jules Maxwell
Movement Director: Freddie Opoku-Addaie
Spoken Word Artist: Polarbear
Box Office: 020 7968 6808
Booking Link: http://www.liftfestival.com/content/32160/lift_2014/turfed/turfed_br_921_june__renato_rocha_brazil
Booking Until: 21 June 2014