With the startling news a homeless man died in our city just days before, views on homelessness have been a hot topic even prior to this sad news. Behind the Label could not return to the WMC at a more pressing time, as Christmas is approaching and the impact of having people still on our streets (in this sort of cold) is an injustice that usually gets ignored.
After the premier back in 2016, Behind the Label gives a voice to those who have experienced being on the streets and the impact it has on them. With the spotlight on these figures, we get a chilling, sobering and immensely upsetting accounts of lives pushed to the brink. There is no form of appropriation, we see the real deal here. Though most lack a sense of a performer’s skill, we soon find that the oral elements of the show, becomes absorbing.
This critic is full of praise, though I feel some advice and recommendations are a must to pull focus on what could be an even better show. At over 2 hours and 15 minutes (and no interval), it was far too long, though at times it did appear to fly by. The stories themselves are the focus, making the video work seem like a lot of padding. We might laugh with a rap about Santa and a sat nav routine which is over used, or the interviews with those who have helped them. The set is a vivid mastering of our Magic Roundabout, the gateway to Splott and a famous local landmark in and of itself. Perhaps a show in the round might work better (just imagine if the roundabout revolved!) with this familiar setting and it could all be even more exposing to both performers and audience alike.
We don’t expect the ensemble to deliver staggering acting abilities, though it is great to hear that some of them want to continue their career in the field. One stand out actor is Ozzy Aldridge, who has experienced homelessness. He has a fierce, almost stand up like delivery when he gives some of the most telling monologues we hear over the night. He is a familiar face from The Chimes, last Christmas (another homeless inspired work) and will certainly go far in a performing career. There were unexpected moments of humour, ripping into an audience member and the fact he called him son Charlie (slang for Cocaine, if you didn’t know) is perhaps one of the most absurd and shocking moments of the show. The emotional avalanche which bashes us, comes with his story of a Polish man, also on the streets who choose to kill himself due to Ozzy’s lack of desire to listen to him. A powerful moment, indeed.
Each person has their own unique story to tell. One who frequents his shabby tent is Beckett like, harassing carollers, who’s sing twisted new versions of festive songs. I never expected to see an nativity ending with Away in a Manger, but with a crack baby twist. The empathy is in overdrive, though I doubt anyone involved wants pity. All these on stage have been able to get out of poverty and make something of themselves. More work like this is integral.
A valiant effort from Theatre vs Oppression, The Wallich and the Wales Millennium Centre.
Behind the Label continues at the WMC till 14th December 2018.
This review has been kindly supported by the Wales Critics Fund.