by Hannah Rose
Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit—aka Sh!t Theatre—are Generation Renters living in Windsor House on the Woodberry Down housing estate in Hackney. Their digs are dirty, cramped, noisy and downright dangerous—thankfully, the pigeon netting saved one of them from a fall off the balcony (which, incidentally, is covered in pigeon shit).
The kitchen is “fucking disgusting,” not to mention expensive at £1200 a month. This however, is the standard experience for thousands of London dwellers who have no hope in securing affordable, safe housing in England’s capital city. In Letters to Windsor House, Louise and Rebecca crack open a window and shine a light on the London housing bubble via this renegade piece of political theatre—a stimulating medley of storytelling, reportage, video, and Oliver inspired songs.
Letters to Windsor House begins with an examination into the mysteries surrounding the lives of past tenants through their post which has been piling up on their doorstep for months. Audiences enjoy a shared voyeuristic pleasure in the tearing open of Daisy Murray, Rob Jecock, Saad Madras’ letters (names have been changed). This is following confirmation from the The Postal Services Act, 2000, that it is only an offence to open someone’s mail ‘without reasonable excuse’ or ‘if you intend to act to another’s detriment.’ “So it’s not completely illegal to open somebody else’s mail,” they conclude. Tax evasion, subscriptions to baby-related products, catalogues promising tweed and P60s lay waiting thus unravelling tales of perversion, poor taste and petty theft.
It’s a galling message, cutting right to the heart of the hypocrisy of London housing
What lies behind the humorous postal mysteries is something darker: Louise and Rebecca discover that their ‘landlord’ – characterized as the nefarious Fagin from Oliver—is in fact subletting their flat to them, since he is the actual Hackney council tenant. The story of the exploitation and dehumanization of the London housing crisis unfolds; should Becca and Louise report their wicked landlord and face eviction? What will become of them? Personal tensions seep into the performance as they read out letters written to one another, thus bringing home the humanity that lies between them as friends, and the unfair disadvantages they face as young women just trying to get by in London.
Overlooking Woodberry Down estate is a brand new housing development which commands a view over the rows upon rows postwar social housing: little brown terraces where, for decades, have been home to London’s working class. Posing as would be-buyers for one of the new apartments and armed with a secret camera, Louise and Rebecca film their private tour. The estate agent assures them that security is tight here, reassuring potential buyers that no one from the nearby estates will get in and spoil the surroundings; lock-ups are available for kayaks on the private boating lake. It’s a galling message, cutting right to the heart of the hypocrisy of London housing.
The play begs the following question: which current power structures are able to make a difference to the crisis, in a city which relies on private investment to build new homes that are only affordable to the super-rich?
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan ran for election last year under the promise of a housing policy referendum pledging action against soaring rents. He has since introduced the London Living Rent, a “historic” new form of tenure that will enable tenants to save money while renting affordably, eventually moving them on to home ownership.
Owning your own home / renting private property isn’t right for everybody; there are many people living in alternative housing in the UK: boat people, housing co-ops, squatters. Private property is one of the three tenets anarchists oppose (alongside hierarchical authority and the State). Anarchists are hostile to private property because it is considered a source of enslavement. Exploitation, elite privilege and, ultimately, inequality, are its consequences. The WOMBLES (White Overalls Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles) are one such British group, who gained notoriety in the early noughties for protesting around the streets of London wearing white overalls with padding and helmets.
representative of the thousands of young people trying to make a living and get by in London.
Louise and Rebecca are not anarchists—or WOMBLES. They are representative of the thousands of young people trying to make a living and get by in London. This is essentially what makes Letters to Windsor House so effective. Because the Sh!t Theatre duo is so likeable and so disarmingly real—made evident through their comedic blending of personal repartee—they are granted license to play with reality, make wild assumptions over the lives of past tenants, and hold to account the dysfunctional system which is shaping London’s housing.
All image credit Sh!t Theatre
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