Homelessness and how to escape it are tackled in a brand-new play by Greg Mosse for the Festival of Chichester.
Self-Help will be staged in St John’s Chapel by 19+, a new group of young performers just moving on from Chichester Festival Youth Theatre (Saturday, June 20, 2pm; Sunday, June 21, 2pm; Wednesday, June 24, 2pm).
As Greg says, Self-Help is a comedy full of surprising twists about five young people who are trying to escape from living on the streets of London.
Nothing comes easy but, in the end, they pull together – helping themselves to new lives.
“I wanted to write something that had the buzz of comedy but had a serious issue at the heart of it,” Greg explains.
The idea came to him one day when he was passing the enormous Crossrail development at the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street intersection in London, a redevelopment which has created almost a wasteland of abandoned and condemned buildings.
“It struck me that if I was 19 years old and living homeless in London, these buildings would be a place for a warm night’s sleep.
“These thoughts were present in my mind, and then I started thinking ‘If I found a place like that to shelter for a night’s sleep, what would I do?’
“From that came the idea that four or five young people could come together and discuss what their plans are for getting themselves out of the predicament they are in. Hence the title Self-Help.
“Because I was a secondary-school teacher for a decade in central London in a 11-16 comprehensive, I was familiar with the way young people talk.
“Sometimes I don’t think parents have that awareness of the way young people speak to each other.
“They have a particular personality that they have when they are with their parents, but it is different when they are with each other. School is like the Big Brother house. Here they speak to each other with their own vocabulary.”
But plenty of misconceptions exist.
“Often when you see a play written for young people, they swear a lot and have a very limited vocabulary.
“Young working-class characters are often given a lot of vulgarity and a very repetitive pattern of speech, but the fact is that that is really not the reality.
“I wanted to make sure that all five of the young people in the play who want to get themselves out of their predicament in various different ways are all fluent and intelligent.”
Which, of course, begs the question: how did they get into that situation in the first place?
“That’s the core of the play. The play allows you to reveal what happened in their personal pasts. I hope everyone that sees it thinks these young people will escape one way or another, even if not necessarily by means we would approve of!”
Greg, husband of novelist Kate, has written the piece as a thank you to Chichester Festival Youth Theatre. Both their children Martha and Felix enjoyed many happy times through the Youth Theatre; on the back of it, Felix has gone on to work in the business.
Greg is targeting the piece at those just moving on from the Youth Theatre, those perhaps just looking for their first job.
He sees it as a way of keeping alive their creative hopes and creating opportunities.
The point is to encourage people with dreams of creating a career in the business that persistence is the way to make it happen; that the worst thing you can do is give up too soon.
“It is for that age where young people might start thinking it is never going to happen. Many young people are lost to theatre because their professional break just happens too late.”