Camden People’s Theatre tackle London’s housing crisis with new festival

PUBLISHED: 13:54 14 January 2016

This is Private Property. Picture: Helen Murray

This is Private Property. Picture: Helen Murray

© Copyright Helen Murray 2015

Alex Bellotti talks to Brian Logan, the artistic director of Whose London Is It Anyway who has also written its headline show.

In the news agenda over the last year, London’s housing crisis has become so inescapable that Camden People’s Theatre feels a touch hard done by. Two years ago, artistic director Brian Logan and his team started putting together the plans for their new festival, Whose London Is It Anyway, in the hope that they were “ahead of the curve, whereas now we’re at the crest of the wave”.

But it’s not to matter. With May’s London mayoral elections fast approaching, the appetite for debate on the issue has never been greater, and with over 30 shows and talks across four weeks, there’s plenty at the festival to get stuck into.

“We’re trying to avoid – and there have been a few of these already – plays fretting about whether middle class people can afford to buy a new home,” explains Logan, whose own show, This Is Private Property, headlines the event.

“I’m not denigrating that, I’m one of those middle class people and that’s cool, but the focus of the production that I’m personally working on is looking at social cleansing and the wider phenomenon of what London is becoming.”

With topics ranging from 
rotten councils to the history of Camden Walk, Whose London Is It Anyway features works from writers such as Richard DeDominici and Tiffany Murphy, and boasts off-site performances in venues including the Southbank Undercroft and the Carpenters Estate (site of the E15 protests).

Mindful of the fact that This Is Private Property leads the festival, Logan says his show aims to give a panoramic overview of the many issues explored across the four weeks. The story focuses on semi-fictitious presenters and their efforts to interview a group of property developers loosely based on the Candy brothers, whose real life plans to convert seven Regents Parks properties into a ‘mega mansion’ have been the subject of much dispute.

“What’s struck me working on this show,” says Brixton resident Logan, “is that I’m 42, I moved to London when I was 21, I studied in a university in the East End and graduated as not a rich person, but it was never a big problem to me to get a house and I never doubted that I could make my life in London if I wanted to. Yet all four of the performers in my show doubt whether they’ll be able to stay in London.

“They’re not particularly poor or rich, just normal people, but for people 15 years younger than me it’s a massive problem. Working in the arts, it would be just the same if they were working in any other average income profession. Me personally, I’m affected because I’m part of the gentrifying wave in Brixton – despite myself, I definitely am. If you live in Brixton and have a social conscience, you have to deal with that and work out how you’re going to respond to it.”

Aside from the housing issue, there are plenty of musings to be found on the cultural identity of Londoners. Annie Siddons’ How (Not) to Live in Suburbia, for instance will sit alongside Rachael Clerke’s Cuncrete (formerly known as Beton Brute), while later in the festival Venice as a Dolphin will introduce Camden Community Radio, a new local radio station created by artists and supported through CPT’s People’s Theatre Award.

The complexities of the ‘London Question’, says Logan, have now moved beyond a clear Left/Right political divide. Because of this, he hopes that even those who aren’t part of Generation Rent will join the debate about what the city should mean to its 8.5 million inhabitants.

“It’s quite interesting how a lot of this stuff cuts across politics. What does the word ‘conservative’ mean? I find myself in a position where I’m flashing a red flag against progress and saying can’t we conserve some of the terrific things about London we’re going to lose here? You could argue that’s a conservative impulse.

“The type of people who come to CPT is always a wide range and artists definitely are affected by the housing crisis, but I also hope people will come as citizens of London and argue about what they want this city to be, whether or not they’re personally affected.”

Whose London Is It Anyway runs until January 31 at the Camden People’s Theatre and associated venues. For the full programme, visit cptheatre.co.uk

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