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Human Jam review at Camden People’s Theatre, London – ‘documentary theatre inspired by HS2’

Brian Logan and Shamira Turner in Human Jam at Camden People's Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Created by Camden People’s Theatre’s artistic director Brian Logan, with Shamira Turner and Tom Adams, the genre-blending piece confronts the upheaval caused by the HS2 project that’s happening on its doorstep.

Performed by Logan and Turner, Human Jam starts off as a fairly straight piece of documentary theatre. Accompanied by a deliberately lo-fi Power Point presentation (1990s-style clipart included), Logan explains how the expansion of Euston station for the HS2 terminus has resulted in a local green space, St James’ Gardens, being closed down. The interesting part is that St James’ isn’t just a park, it’s actually a burial spot containing 63,000 bodies.

With a metatheatrical flourish, the performance segues into a conversation with one of the dead residents researched by Logan. Thomas Spence, a long-forgotten Newcastle socialist, campaigned for justice in a manner that now makes him a good spokesperson for the local Eustonites sidelined and potentially uprooted by HS2.

As the exhumed reformer, Turner is excellent at zombie-like body humour, but the overall conceit is overwrought. Logan throws up way more questions than he answers, including a spiritual unease with grave destruction and vague parallels between the sale of land for HS2 and historic Enclosure Acts.

Perhaps none of this matters. At heart, this is community-centred theatre (and the show ends with a community choir joining them on stage). But, like the doomed railway project, it doesn’t feel close to being finished.

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Interesting but underdeveloped exercise in documentary theatre that has community at its core