Belgrade review: The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency
The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency, Belgrade Theatre, to October 16.
It’s 1977 and Britain is struggling. Memories of the three-day week are still fresh as recession bites. It’s the Queen’s silver jubilee, but alongside the celebrations people are suffering.
Unemployment is high and homelessness is a growing scourge. Cardboard cities spring up although countless homes and other properties lie empty.
This is the background in which the astonishing new musical, Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency, is set.
Based on a story by the poet Heathcote Williams, which was itself based on fact, it tells how a group of idealists set about trying to tackle homelessness – by taking over empty buildings and encouraging people to squat in them.
The play touches on serious issues – important then and, sadly, now – like misogyny, domestic violence and of course, homelessness.
If it all sounds weighty and bleak, it really isn’t.
Writer, Coventry-born Sarah Woods, and director Adrian Jackson, have produced something remarkable.
The play is also a celebration of the idealism of the Ruff Tuff team as they try to remake their corner of the world, and even set up their own independent country within west London, Frestonia, turning their backs on the injustices and unfairness they see all around them.
It’s lively and joyous.
The songs are terrific and well played by the multi-talented cast. On the press night they got better as the show went on, stepping up a gear in the second half. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
And as an extra brilliant and sometimes moving touch, the voices on stage were backed up wonderfully by a choir of people who have themselves experienced homelessness.
A couple of the songs touched effectively on the misery of poverty and rough sleeping, and at one point genuine photos from the time were flashed up on a screen over the stage to remind the audience just how grim things were for many.
But this play is far from grim. The message is strong but it’s delivered with warmth and fun.
And the virtually full house loved it.
Barbara Goulden adds:
What a high-energy night for this amazing production which owed much to the Seventies both in style and content.
A tad unfocused in my opinion, but brilliantly choreographed with unexpected choirs turning up to sing from the galleries to accompany really foot-tapping, inspirational music.
Apart from the occasional crude lyric, the whole show put me in mind of a production of Hair, the hit musical that took the West End by storm in the late Sixties and went on to run for years.
Nobody took their clothes off in this Belgrade production but the message about homelessness came over loud and clear. I couldn't help thinking that with a little tightening up in the dialogue this could also be a musical that runs for years.
Above, some of the Ruff Tuff cast (left to right): Benji Lord, Sarah Workman, Hannah Azuonye, Hollie Cassar, Wesley Charles and Matt Burns. Picture by: Robert Day.