Fourth up in the QMTC New Writers’ Festival is Cardboard City, written and directed by Holly Rodman. I spoke to Holly about the real-life inspirations she had for the play and what she’d like the audience to take away from it.
“Cardboard City is a journey through London from the protagonist Billy’s eyes. Billy is a northerner who is foreign to the London lifestyle and comes to the city for a (bad) sakes job where he meets Giovanni – the first homeless person he’s ever met. Initially Billy has a stereotype of homeless people, but his mind is opened to problems that go on for people sleeping rough when he meets the four other homeless characters. The play takes us through this journey of realisation and the point is to give homeless people a voice. It came from my need to see dialogue about the homeless- but from their perspective”.
Holly was inclined to write the play from her own experiences meeting homeless people in London, and says she thinks Billy reflects her own experiences moving to London, being from the north as well. “When you come to London you get used to it [seeing homeless people]. It made me think about theatre I’d seen before and that there weren’t any really addressing the homeless crisis and those affected by it. It made me upset and angry”. In the performance, there will be a pile in the middle of stage full of rubbish and sleeping bags to represent how we walk past so many homeless people every day without stopping or noticing.
Holly’s first experience with speaking to homeless people in the city was when she met a man outside the pub [reimagined as Andy in the play] who had been kicked in the head when asleep, with his eye “bulging out like a cricket ball”. Since then, Holly kept meeting and speaking to various people sleeping rough. “Without sounding cheesy, I kind of took it as a sign that I should write something about it as the issue kept cropping up and there was always material to work on. I’d be writing snippets or sitting on the tube writing on my phone and walking around picking up things. It only took a few weeks to write but it was a long process of development”.
“I was inspired by political theatre in general. It’s not so much narrative but the function of the play is the concept and the message.” The play Land of Three Towers, which Holly saw towards the beginning of this academic year, was also an inspiration. “It was conversations people had with others about a specific event – their estate being shut down – which I liked as it felt honest and the language wasn’t overcomplicated. I’ve obviously tried to stay away from copying it, though.”
Holly says she has found the process of directing this show “a challenge, but liberating”, for due to the show being new writing, Holly remarks that “it is very exciting and nice to know there’s not any expectation from the audience about what they’re going to see”. Holly also expressed the need for a cast who genuinely cared about the issues in the play and who would be ready to face a few realities that they may not be comfortable with confronting. “The cast have been brilliant in terms of their involvement and bringing new things into rehearsals. I wanted to represent the people I met as accurately as possible but if I did too well, it wouldn’t be theatre, it would be documentary. Hopefully we’ve found a happy medium”. Holly and the cast are aiming not to represent archetypes in the performance, but to show these people as individuals. This has included the cast devising together, which wasn’t the aim, but has worked “really well”.
When asked what she wanted the audience to get out of the play, Holly’s answer was very clear: “realisation, definitely. And empathy. I want them to empathise with each character and for the homeless people to be humanised; they’re not angels – no one is. People will look and think it’s a sad and hard-hitting play but there are some comic moments. Light and shade is what creates a human and that’s the point of the play.”
“I hope that afterwards people take more notice of the people they walk past. Not every person is the same and the thing I noticed was their desperation to be seen as the person they are, to have their name said, or for someone to remember that they are funny- or for all of these things”.
Cardboard City is being performed on Saturday 4th March at 7pm in the Pinter Studio. The cast consists of Zak Chan, Eva Ruseva, Clary Montero, Kyle Murphy, Kerry Hunt, and Katherine Borchsenius. Tickets can be booked at www.qmtc.co.uk