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Where Will We Live? review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘rough, raucous and moving’

Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Olivette Cole-Wilson in Where Will We Live? at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Dashti Jahfar Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Olivette Cole-Wilson in Where Will We Live? at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Dashti Jahfar

Rough, raucous but absolutely right-headed, Changing Face Collective’s verbatim howl against the destruction of Brixton through aggressive gentrification and ‘regeneration’ shines as brightly and briefly as a flare. Stitched together by writer Elisabeth Winkler from the accounts of shopkeepers, long-time residents, local councillors and middle-class arrivees, it’s unapologetic in its politics, but skilfully wrought in its balancing of facts and figures with raw emotional realities.

A cast of seven, backed by two drum-thumping musicians, present the grievances, recollections and explanations of more than 100 Lambeth residents. Director Lucy Curtis doesn’t aim for any kind of Alecky Blythe-style accuracy – there are no earpieces in sight and no stutters or repetitions to invoke documentary realism. Instead she foregrounds storytelling, and an agitprop spirit, as ineffectual Labour ministers erect their own shaky pulpits from market-stall crates and the company forms itself into protest marches and town hall gatherings.

Amid stories of local businesses pushed into closure and residents fighting to hold onto their families’ homes, the hideous systems behind these demolitions and erasures are made clear. Good intentions and ignorant optimism seep into the system with as great a toxicity as malice and greed, and though there is joy and solidarity threaded throughout, the victories feel temporary, the outlook bleak.

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A rough, raucous and moving verbatim piece about the damage created by the regeneration of Lambeth