It’s probably safe to say that Shit Theatre’s blend of scrappy, DIY, documentary theatre is an acquired taste. Their work looks as though it has been stapled together from odds-and-ends: snatches of song, a hastily thrown together montage, grainy video recordings – the bric-a-brac of images and ideas. If this sounds like negative criticism, then let me say now, it isn’t. Their performances are at once transgressive and tender. Co-performers Rebecca and Louise present their lives together – as theatre-makers, as friends, as flatmates – as an open book, one from which they’re quite happy to rip out whole pages if that’s what is required. With Letters to Windsor House, they prove once again that they’re the punk political scientists of British theatre.
In Letters… the duo turn their anarchical attention to London’s housing crisis. But this isn’t your usual depressing trawl through our capital’s beleaguered property market, no po-faced exercise in liberal hand wringing; Letters… is choppy, it’s scattergun, it’s messy. In the best possible sense. Co-performers (and one-time flatmates) Rebecca and Louise have never been squeamish about getting personal, about turning themselves inside out and exposing their vulnerabilities to a live audience. Indeed, Letters… is as much a piece about the emotional strains of friendship and co-habitation, as it is a withering indictment on slum-landlords and gentrification.
Letters… hones in on Rebecca and Louise’s decision to (illegally, but wisely) read the mail of their landlord’s former tenants. Bills, bank statements, catalogues, magazine subscription, junk mail – it’s all there. What begins as idle mischief soon turns into a gonzo-like investigation into the identities, whereabouts and backgrounds of their flat’s former occupants. It may sound like a threadbare premise for a show, but the genius of Shit Theatre is their ability to allow narratives to play out, through random discoveries and creative flights-of-fancy.
Debt, interest, financial penalties; the letters themselves tell stories of people struggling to scrape by in the face of rising rents and low pay. Meanwhile, the duo presents us with smart-phone recordings of their experience living in the city; rising homelessness, dilapidated estates, farrow green-spaces – the lot. At one point, the duo is given a guided tour through a penthouse suite in a set of newly built luxury apartments. The image of this fortified glass-tower provides a sobering insight into the bunker mentality of the super-rich for whom homes are investments and the poor appear as little more than worker ants crawling about in the colonies below.
All of this is intercut with the sharing of personal letters; feelings of anxiety and admissions of resentment are delivered alongside heartfelt statements of love and friendship. It is in the quiet, simple power of Rebecca and Louise’s’ personal revelations that the emotional strain of feeling hemmed in and squeezed out by the place you live in becomes most apparent. Such moments serve as a finely balanced counter-weight to the madcap energy of the remaining performance. While the duo’s blend of musical styling’s and knowing humor imbue it all with a lightness of touch, Letters To Windsor House provides us with a truly alarming vision of the new Victorian Age in which we live. Belying their frantic and facetious performances, Shit Theatre have created a politically vital and highly interventionist piece of work.
PRODUCTION | Shit Theatre & Show And Tell
CAST | Louise Mothersole & Rebecca Biscuit
DIRECTOR | Louise Mothersole & Rebecca Biscuit
DESIGN | Louise Mothersole & Rebecca Biscuit