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Home Truths review at the Bunker, London – ‘patchily panoramic’

The cast of Ruff Tuff by Cardboard Citizens at the Bunker, London. Photo: Pamela Raith The cast of The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Cardboard Citizens at the Bunker, London. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Home Truths is Cardboard Citizens’ attempt to tell the history of British housing in nine new short plays.

Cycle One – of three – makes for an engagingly rough-and-ready, patchily panoramic, but tonally inchoate evening, embellished here and there with slideshows, snippets, and real-life stories.

In Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Slummers, a 19th-century family of slum-dwelling Milliners desperately try to convince a board of straight-jacketed, late-Victorian philanthropists of their probity. In Heathcote Williams and Sarah Woods’ The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency, a rabble of well-meaning radicals match homeless people with empty houses.

In Stef Smith’s Back to Back to Back, two intertwining stories – of two couples’ anxiety-filled, 30-something lives in adjacent ex-council flats – map out some of the uglier consequences of today’s housing crisis, from ‘white flight’ to 21st century segregation.

A diverse, knockabout cast of 10 – including the impressively versatile Mariam Haque, who shifts between a hard-nosed Eliza Doolittle-esque teenager and a jittery pregnant worrier as the evening unfolds – work hard to ensure each play has a distinct vibe.

The kaleidoscopic Slummers traces the roots of today’s social stigmas in the puritanical ignorance of the 1880s elite, while the anarchic Ruff Tuff offers a persuasively heady taste of free-spirited dissent, and the stylishly elliptical Back to Back to Back reaches for a grim, everyday symbolism of discarded mattresses and rising damp.

But for all their worthiness and individual flair, the plays don’t form a functioning trio: there’s little overarching significance, and an unsettling uncertainty of tone throughout. One never knows whether to laugh or cry, and ends up doing neither.


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A rough-and-ready trio of new plays in Cardboard Citizens' panoramic programme tackling the housing crisis