Home Sweet Home is a remarkable piece of work, as difficult to define as it is easy to warm to. A friend asked if I would call it agit-prop, to which the only answer is, "No ... and yes." It certainly makes hard-hitting points about the ways in which the system lets down old people (and the staff in care homes), but mainly it is celebratory of the achievements, aspirations and humanity of the old.
Emma Adams' play for Freedom Studios and Entelechy Arts contains a distinct storyline acted out very capably by seven professional actors, but the community project surrounding the central drama is at least as important. Hannah Sibai's designs are crucial. A large space at the Ukrainian Centre is surrounded by small blocks of seating, with delightfully homely living rooms in each: wall-lights, framed photographs, old-fashioned wallpaper and curtains. The open acting area – with furniture wheeled on as needed – is finally transformed into a sort of Big Top with streams of lights.
The eight members of the Community Chorus each look after an area of seating: welcoming audience members, giving them cups of tea, passing round photo albums and scent bottles with appropriate care home smells. In the course of the evening they do simple magic tricks (some rather well), comment on the action, dance and sing a bit and generally affirm the positive side of old age.
The chorus members also represent the many older people whose stories have fed into Adams' script over the two-year gestation of the play. These have been refined down to the experiences of three representative old people. Rosa (Judy Norman) is a Ukrainian who bitterly resents being admitted to the home and is confident that her daughter will secure her release. Moses (Kevin Golding) is a West Indian confined to a wheelchair who needs help on an illicit mission to visit another part of the home. Norman and Golding are a fine double-act, sparring verbally, finding a spirit of adventure and sharing each other's back-stories.
Ron (a tortured Stephen Schreiber) is an occasionally disruptive dementia sufferer whose wife Barbra (Jean Rogers, determined and sympathetic) tries with the utmost difficulty to get staff to reconsider the decision – officially, not yet made – to put him on anti-psychotic drugs and thus destroy his sense of himself.
Phillipa Peak realises Jo, the manager with her hands tied (literally – she is chained to her filing cabinet), effectively, and Mani Dosanjh's struggles with principle and loyalty as the care-worker Iffty are aided enormously by the comic extravagance of the appearances of his ghostly grandma and irritatingly ever-present conscience (Balvinder Sopal).
Under Tom Wright's direction the whole thing becomes an immersive experience and the evening runs pretty smoothly given the disparate elements to be integrated.
Home Sweet Home runs at the Ukrainian Centre, Bradford, until 5 April. An Autumn tour takes it back to the Ukrainian Centre (16-20 September), then to the Albany, Deptford (23-27 September) and ARC, Stockton Arts Centre (30 September – 4 October).