DIY review by a Y9 student


More Than Entertainment!

A Theatre Review by Hugo Bosworth (Y9)
Of SPID Theatre’s DIY show

At the V and A Museum Feb 10
Rating: 5 out of 5

Recently, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum hosted a show that both engaged and fascinated the audience. SPID Theatre based in North Kensington, created a performance, titled DIY, that I found powerful and entertaining and proved good drama can also educate. SPID theatre welcomed me to visit and participate on a few SPID rehearsals over the Christmas period and see how they approach a subject that has always been a problem in the capital. The finished play showed the journey of social housing, starting with the homeless in the Victorian era, through to the present day. 

Thought provoking content showed Henry Mayhew, the Victorian journalist and founder of Punch magazine, researching the ‘London Poor’ on the margins of society and how his writing shocked a generation. SPID’s multi-generational cast aged thirteen to twenty-five years, staged the street scenes from victorian London that inspired humanitarian movements. Funny jokes and rhymes conveyed thoughts of what Mayhew was trying to attempt, and historical sound recording used technology successfully.

Scenes showed idealistic architects and sociologists designing housing developments like Brutalist, Trellick Tower, off Portobello Road, with budgets that were then cut, and buildings left unfinished. These buildings were far from expectations and left generations living with mistakes in design. The history of social housing was told with comic devises and a fast-moving pace, portraying committees, tenants, and policy makers attempting to resolve matters in various ways.

This was a play, not a documentary, fun to watch. The audience engaged using humour with memorable moments, zooming in on some personal experiences of vivid characters taken from true life research. Physical theatre and community theatre at its best: the performers used the body to tell the story. Boxes were stacked and arranged throughout to show scene changes, integrated with traditional dramatic scripted material. Regardless of the subject matter, the storyline was entertaining.

Characters like ‘Mad Jack’, expressed highly individual characters portraits based on real people with movement.  Bodies moved in disorientating ways: fast and slow movements, brilliantly choreographed. The streets of London in the early 1900s were conveyed with people heads down and hands on the stomachs, highlighting the low standard of living, and poor health. The show peaked with a highly charged monologue set in present time, by the youngest performer, that captivated and challenged the audience out of any complacency, all based on recent research by the researcher/performers, worthy of the National Theatre as were other performances by the highly talented group.

Helpful staging and the use of props assisted the physical theatre with props framing the actions in a time and place. The historical sound recordings used genuine source material from the present and past giving real authenticity to the history. Boxes replaced large sets, and worked in a limited physical space, minimal but skilful and gave a feeling of space. This mixture of age groups performing together continuously reminded the viewer of how during the time of Mayhew’s research, both adults and children lived and worked on the streets of London, this was strong casting.

The emotional impact made a long-lasting effect, explaining how in the past certain key people have helped shape policy and certain governments have attempted solutions. The tragic circumstances of some characters hit hard and followed by surprising moments where you were belly laughing, showing communities with strong friendships and family ties in hard times and good times, in an almost Neo- Dickensian tradition, ending with the current range of people, reflecting the diversity of London in 2024, including leaseholders who bought their property from the council.

There was much of breaking of the ‘4th wall’ with audience participation. Actors asking the audience questions and the Q & A at the end of the show was very much part of the show. There were many questions from the audience, asking the actors their thoughts, back and forth, proving the audience became part of the show in the present moment, as was intended. Some important local political issues were sensitively portrayed, but the show focused on broader themes that had interest beyond London, and possibly the United Kingdom.

Difficult situations were represented without forcing answers, showing characters often arguing amongst themselves, highlighting that conflict and range of opinion exists. Overall, a theatrical success, strongly in the activist tradition of Bertolt Brecht, which left the audience still thinking on the way home. It was good see a play that gave the brain a nudge, the heart a punch, but you could still have a good day out at the theatre.

Scroll to Top