You know you’ve been in fringe theatre for too long when you book tickets to an interesting looking show, and then realise that you’ve worked with half the cast before. Such was the case with Ghost Street which, it turns out, was directed by Samuel Erskine (who directed my piece for Bowie Nights, ‘Sunken Dreams’), and starred Jackie Jones (also in the same play). With two former LABB collaborators on board, then, I already knew I was in for a good night!
Ghost Street examines the human consequences of so-called ‘slum clearances’, large scale purchases by compulsory order of whole areas for the purpose of rebuilding in a more upmarket manner – in modern parlance, gentrification.
Maureen has lived on the same terraced street for her entire life, moving just across the road from her widowed father after marriage, and raising her daughter there. She finds out from the television that her area, described as a hotbed of crime, is to be part of a demolition scheme, and her family is to be collateral damage to this grand plan. She vows to remain.
As the scenes revert back to key moment from her life – first day of school, the night she got engaged, birth of her child – we see just how vital this street and its inhabitants have been to her life. With a set consisting of nothing more than a table and chair, just a few sound effects, and two actors on stage taking on several roles (Jay Podmore is alternately dad and husband opposite Jones), Jessica May Buxton’s script effortlessly evokes the rich landscape of the lost community.
There is no nostalgic sugar coating, though – alongside the neighbour who walks Maureen home from school are the shouting matches, the milkman who wakes everyone up too early, the lack of privacy.
It is no utopia, but it is a home.
Several moments seemed to bring real tears from the audience, not least the death of Maureen’s father (from work related illness, for which the families are never compensated) just weeks after he receives his eviction notice.
Despite the barren set, we ‘see’ clearly the desolation of the street as the other residents leave for anonymous, characterless estates.
For a moment, Maureen and her husband become real people to the faceless corporation desperate to buy them out, as they are forced to engage with this obstacle that stands in the way of more student flats and upmarket apartments.
Then, in a heart breaking ending, just as the small family is finally convinced to take a flat elsewhere, the rug is pulled and the council no longer want to purchase the property. Having turned the vibrant community into a run down, crime ridden pit, Maureen and her husband are abandoned to their fate.
Ghost Street is a fine example of the fringe theatre principle that less is more. At just one hour straight through, it takes the audience on a journey with characters not often depicted on stage.
They’re not extraordinary, just normal people caught up in a system that doesn’t care.
Buxton’s script reminds us that, behind every news story, every set of figures, every government scheme, are real human lives.
– Steph Dickinson