Esther Bancroft gives her thoughts on Sh!t Theatre’s Letters to Windsor House, a vigorous and hilarious howl of protest against the housing crisis.
Heart’s ‘Alone’ plays feverishly on loop as the audience enters the Wardrobe Theatre. Piled boxes cocoon the sofa on which two girls lie singing drunkenly: a sort of fuck-the-world-and-dance night-in. And so the protest begins.
Nowhere else in Bristol, nay the country, will you see two hand-made telephone boxes dance outlandishly to Kurdish rave music, objecting the housing crisis with a vigour that consumes the stage. Becca and Louise are two genius halves of one Sh!t Theatre. Driven by their mutual love of wit, their cat Reggie and their local chippy ‘#hashtagfishandchips’, the comic duo aim to make the audience really think, with a Sh!t-load of laughs on the way.
The play is as necessary as it is hilarious, combining a distinctive style of messy theatre with genuine thought, tackling bruising social issues. Rising student rent in Bristol is sadly an example which comes to mind immediately, and Letters to Windsor House is frank in promising our generation very little.
Morbidity aside, the play is all the more thrilling considering that it is based on real life. The basic premise is that after flat-sharing as private tenants in a council house, the flatmates do not stop receiving previous tenants’ mail. After about two years of the letters encroaching on their modest awards table, they decide to invoke the loophole in the Postal Services Act stating one can open someone else’s mail in certain circumstances.
You would be forgiven for scepticism—after all, how much comedy can be had with the Postal Services Act? As it turns out, a lot. Using their priceless detective-cum-stalking skills to track down the previous residents, they reveal the seriousness of the ongoing housing crisis, but also the importance of having a place to call home.
The accompanying PowerPoint screened at the back of the stage looks like an enthusiastic year-eight’s local community project. Except that this is spectacularly worse and bursting with searing political statement. The irony is marvellous yet hard-hitting, combining a plethora of shots of Woodberry Park’s new luxury flats next to the homeless tents congregating limpet-like nearby.
As the audience is told in a clip from Woodbury Park’s marketing video, the area is ‘all about community’: an ‘oasis’. All that van be seen is rubbish upon rubbish and a Dickensian disregard for the poor: shiny new windows reflecting soggy cardboard and tarpaulin.
Further video clips of their cramped flat mark the difference between the London of the rich, and that of the deprived. This is Windsor House, but not that Windsor house. Whoever thought of naming dingy council flats after Royal estates has a twisted elitist sense of humour, which the audience is invited to ridicule and protest against.
— Alec Woolford (@agwoolford) March 21, 2017
All of this is accompanied by hilarious interludes of distinctive voice and song—much of it nonsense and reminiscent of the consequences of half a bottle. Handled with the perfect balance of cynicism and punctuated with sobering truths, this is not just ‘Sh!t theatre’ on show, but best friends who just fancied trying (in their words) a bit ‘of the acting’.
They clearly enjoy it; often the pair come out of character to explain to the audience the failed attempts at a certain joke or gag. However what the audience comes to realise is that they are not playing characters, but themselves. There is an echo of meta-theatre but overall it is the personal which drives the piece.
In their words, ‘our work celebrates the ‘live-ness’—lines are learnt, and then un-learnt; sections are left to be devised on stage; pieces re-written in response to the specific audience. It’s all very alive, very organic—much like the London that should exist, but has instead been replaced by glass towers reserved for the privileged few.
The pair’s mantra is that they love ‘facepaint, failure and being Sh!t’. I think the audience would agree with me that they do not need to worry about those last two.
Letters to Windsor House is a must-see, confirming the bonds of friendship, the critical state of the housing crisis, and the importance of changing one’s address upon moving out. You have been warned.
Letters to Windsor House runs at the Wardrobe Theatre until 25th March. Tickets are available here.
What were your thoughts on Letters to Windsor House? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @EpigramArts