Review “Housemates”, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff by Tiago Gambogi

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

“Housemates” drums up an inclusive revolution

Based on a true story in Cardiff, a serendipitous encounter between Jim, a Cardiff University student, and Alan, a lifelong resident of Ely Hospital born with Down’s syndrome, sparked a profound shift in the realm of care and support. Alan yearned for a place to call home and had a dream: to join a band. Jim, on the other hand, aspired to change the world, though he wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

Hijinx, a leading inclusive theatre company, partnered with the Sherman Theatre to create an extraordinary gem of a theatrical performance that takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotion and reflection. “Housemates” isn’t just a play; it’s a profound exploration of the human spirit.

Set against the spirited backdrop of the 1970s, “Housemates” introduces us to a robust cast of seven neurodivergent and neurotypical actor-musicians who infuse the narrative with a powerful soundtrack featuring classics from T. Rex and Sweet. Playwright Tim Green dedicated two to three years to bring this story to life. Co-director Ben Pettitt-Wade emphasizes the significance of visibility, inclusivity, and the transformative power of human connections within our society. Co-director Joe Murphy underscores the exceptional nature of this story, one that embodies inspiration while remaining curiously overlooked in Cardiff.

The wonderful ‘70s costumes and the inventive set by Carl Davies transports us to the world of Ely Hospital in 1970s Cardiff. With its green-tiled floor, occasionally scattered with blown orange leaves, and a well-worn wall where the band resides, it visually captivates.

“Housemates” brims with humour and gentle clowning but is unafraid to tackle serious issues. The play courageously sheds light on the derogatory language of the past, such as the dehumanizing term “subnormals” and the terrible legislation of yesteryear like the 1886 Idiot’s Act and the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, which saw over 100,000 people institutionalized.

Actors masterfully navigate delicate subjects with a finesse that is both poignant and humorous. “Are you going to take the ‘angry pill’?” asks the female nurse before the male nurse strong-arms Alan. In another moment, Alan proclaims, “I want sex! In the house… it’ll be like… I am a sex God!” This statement is met with uproarious applause from the audience.

The set is as flexible as it is imaginative, with props ingeniously transforming: a metal frame becomes a bus stop, a trolley of books symbolizes the library, and a hospital bed serves as Alan’s room. Papers tossed in the air symbolize the persistence of the characters as the house application is denied, eventually leading to their triumphant departure from the hospital, each clutching their belongings in bin bags.

The culmination of this incredible journey occurs as Alan triumphantly declares, “This is my house!” Bedecked in a David Bowie-esque costume, he takes to the drums, igniting the stage with electrifying rock ‘n’ roll energy. Alan’s heartfelt dream becomes a reality, culminating in a grand finale with him shining as a drummer, joined by the entire cast as well as extra actors from the Hijinx Academy. Beneath the societal transformation lies the profoundly personal journey of an individual who, after a lifetime within hospital walls, discovers his own stage as a rock star in his own home in Cardiff.

“Housemates” offers a multifaceted theatrical experience, delivering laughter, tears, and a nostalgic journey. With an anarchic and rebellious flair, the show inspires us to close the absurd ways in which neurodivergent people were treated and motivate us to create change and end injustice.

The show is a tale about being genuinely inclusive; it’s about home, identity, and ultimately about taking action. It’s an extraordinary odyssey through time, friendship, and societal transformation both within and without, captivating audiences at the Sherman Theatre, which coincidentally celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Tiago Gambogi
@tiagogambogi, Dance Theatre Artist,

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