By Charlie Norton
Castle Theatre Company’s (CTC) production of Home was electric from the first scene, triumphing through the Company’s adept handling of Nadia Fall’s unique and challenging script.
Set in a hostel in East London and dealing with themes of abuse, racism, and homelessness, the concept behind Home seems to be, as Director Leying Lee notes, ‘a world away’ from our privileged lives in Durham. However, through Lee’s placement of the emphasis on the raw emotions of the testimonials rather than just their narrative details, the audience were able to relate to and connect with the characters on a deep level.
Though the set appeared a little sparse at first, with minimal props and a monochrome scheme, it was quickly clear that this was to put the focus on the acting. The decision to use chalk to signify scene changes was a daring idea, which posed the issue of the characters having to wipe away and redraw lines to signify room boundaries, whilst staying in character, Azuyone was very convincing here. Yet it turned out to be ingenious, helping provide continuity to what could have been, had there been blackout set changes, a disjointed play. The technical team executed their directions well, with slick lighting changes that honed in on individual actors during their monologues.
With such a demanding script, it was a pleasant surprise that the casting choices did not disappoint. The standout performance of the night came from Hannah Azuyone who, as the Eritrean Girl, showed a talent for capturing human vulnerability through her delicate vocals and her excellent mastery of the East African accent. Nobody in the audience dared move during her ‘interview’ and there was palpable emotion among the crowd at the end of her stirring solo.
In fact, the cast was strong at all levels: opening as the Singing Boy, Owen Sparkes, managed to convey a wide range of emotions, without departing too far from his character’s self-conscious, fidgety persona. Clarissa Lonsdale, who played the Young Mum, ranged from comic asides to a tragic denial of her circumstances with an admirable fluency – it was a joy to see her on stage frequently throughout the performance. Erin Welch, playing Sharon, was a lovable heroine and gained dramatic stature throughout the show despite a slightly ‘watery’ start. Thomas Roberts hilariously captured the irony of his lines in the role of the Key Worker.
Furthermore, though Lee was adamant that Home was ‘not a musical’, the subtle incorporation of pop and original music really heightened the emotional impact of the acting, with Mark Pugh giving excellent musical direction. The decision to have Mark Statham omnipresent on stage with a guitar was really effective as he was able to interact with the soloists in front of the audience.
The individual vocal performances were very strong, with Rachelle Oromo, playing Jade, cleverly incorporating acting and beatboxing to comic effect, Adam Evans, playing Tattoo Boy, showcasing some passionate rapping and Sarah Slimani (Bullet) embodying her character even whilst singing – something which many of the actors struggled to achieve. Meanwhile the ensemble pieces harmoniously, united otherwise tenuously linked excerpts. Unfortunately, Alex Colville’s vocal performance as the Security Guard was overshadowed by the other soloists and Fewa Olu-Martins’ mock singing, though funny at first, seemed a little awkward and somewhat encroached upon Slimani’s performance.
The conclusion of the play was very effective, with an edgy ensemble number that allowed the full range of voices in the cast to shine. Having both laughed and cried at various intervals during the performance, I left the theatre feeling emotionally uplifted. The production team made a resounding point that every definition of ‘home’ is valid and that love can overcome even the most adverse circumstances.
Photograph: Genevieve Burns