Pros: Has a strong social message
Cons: Not particularly theatrical
I had already visited the main stage of Camden People’s Theatre to watch another show on the evening when I saw Land of the Three Towers, but hadn’t seen (or even been aware of) the downstairs space. While the former is in serious need of a paint job – it’s so scuffed and scratched it barely qualifies as a “black box” – I found the latter decked out in colourful bunting and protest banners. Friendly ushers passed around plates of sweets and biscuits (choccie Hobnob? Don’t mind if I do!) and offered glasses of squash, establishing a playful atmosphere as a musical trio gently serenaded the audience from one end of the wide space.
Despite its alarmingly Tolkien-esque title, Land of the Three Towers contains no hobbits, wizards or dragons, but does concern a band of “little people” standing up to a powerful opponent. The show’s subtitle is “a community theatre piece celebrating the Focus E15 occupation on Carpenters Estate” and that’s an accurate and informative description. Newham council want to demolish and redevelop the site adjacent to the 2012 Olympic Stadium, and plan to relocate tenants away from the area in a move characterised by the residents as “social cleansing”. A band of mothers occupy the site in protest, and eventually win a reprieve.
It’s difficult to argue with such a cause, particularly as the council’s standpoint is presented only to be ridiculed, as in the repeated quote attributed to Newham’s Mayor, Robin Wales, that “If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham”. Given their dismay at plans to relocate them to Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings, the fact that the women’s concerted efforts lead to positive results is heartening.
Mixing verbatim testimony with songs (featuring some very capable harmonising) this isn’t the most daring or theatrical of shows, but then it isn’t trying to be. It’s informative and sporadically entertaining, which is fine for a community project of this nature. It’s not high art, it’s a record of events and a call to stand up against the commercialisation of our social housing sites and the gentrification of traditional London communities. The few truly theatrical moments are a bonus; I loved the delightful sock-puppet-and-suit Mayor.
The audience are seated in rows on the same level as the playing area, so it was an odd directorial decision to seat a cast member deep in a comfy armchair, making them immediately invisible to all but the front row. I stood up and watched the show from the back so as to be able to see all the action.
Proudly trumpeting its “all-female cast”, the show does in fact feature an appearance from a male singer/guitarist who performs the fun and rousing singalong “Up the Mums!”, and a few other pesky men have backstage production credits. Despite these unexpected masculine deviations, the audience were steadfastly supportive of this interesting and well-intentioned production.
Author/Directors: Emer Mary Morris, Nina Scott
Producer: You Should See The Other Guy
Booking until: 22nd October 2016
Box office: 020 7419 4841