West Hampstead production is making a drama out of debt

A West Hampstead playwright has set her sights on the debt culture of her generation for her Camden Fringe show

Katy Tucker is aware of the irony of rehearsing a show about debt in her grandparents’ West Hampstead living room.

Sky-high London rents combined with the slim financial pickings of fringe theatre recently forced the 28-year-old actress to move in with her elderly relatives in Crediton Hill.

And when her theatre company, Aequitas, was casting around for a topic to devise a play for the Camden Fringe, the joint consensus was to tackle the country’s – and their own – financial woes.

“My grandparents are in their 90s and in good health, but they need someone to change light bulbs or pop out to the shops and they’ve turned the top of the house into a granny flat which, ironically, I have moved into,” says Tucker, who attended Beckford and Hampstead schools before leaving at 16 to train at so called ‘fame academy’ the BRIT school.

“When we started devising, we agreed that debt was a broad subject that affects people in different ways. For actors, debt is a reality. Every company member is in debt – we were thinking of putting how much against each biog in the programme. My generation cannot work towards our future without getting into debt. It’s hard to get a job without a degree or unpaid work experience. In London that means living like a student, in shared houses, even into your late 20s.”

She adds: “The most adult situation I have ever lived in is at my grandparents’. I am blessed that they have a big house and can put me up.”

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Researching Black Sunday, cast members spent time with Occupy London at St Paul’s and in Finsbury Square and interviewed bankers and homeless people living on the capital’s streets.

The black comedy imagines the aftermath of global economic collapse for a disparate group of Londoners.

“We wanted a range of views. Occupy London believes it is the fault of a corrupt system where bankers create debt which creates poverty. One banker felt guilty about their part, while another compared the system to a game of KerPlunk! – where everyone takes a straw, or piece of the pie – and the system eventually collapses. His message was that, instead of blaming bankers, everyone needs to take responsibility for their own financial situation.”

On stage throughout are the dummies of two homeless people, who are voiced by recorded interviews with real-life street sleepers Robin and Paul.

“Homelessness and debt are so intertwined and these characters are like a shadow looming over everyone else on stage,” says Tucker, who works part time as a tour guide to supplement her income from theatre.

“My grandfather was born at the end of World War One and describes his childhood in the slums of King’s Cross as living in constant debt and relying on pawn shops – very like many people’s lives today.”

At the end of every show, a collection will be made for Robin and Paul.

“One of the ironies of this show is we are trying not to get into debt by producing it. We have a band night fundraiser and have called in favours from people. Even fringe theatre costs a huge amount to put on – �1,000 for the venue alone – and we put our own time and money in. I am now turning down paid work to get things done. Whatever we do make will put to the next show.”

B Black Sunday is at The Pirate Castle in Oval Road, Camden Town, from August 1 to 7. Tickets are available on 08444 771000.