This is Private Property (Camden People’s Theatre)

Brian Logan’s production takes a look at London’s housing crisis

Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property
Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property

Great news, everybody. Camden People’s Theatre has solved the housing crisis. It’s easy as well, just three small steps. 1. Property developers and foreign investors stop being dicks. 2. Rents get capped. (Landlords, be damned.) 3. We save all social housing, then build lots more. Right, good. What’s next? Who’s got the case file on ISIS?

The centrepiece of a month-long festival about contemporary London, This Is Private Property marks CPT’s first in-house production for seven years. Unfortunately, artistic director Brian Logan‘s devised piece presents an unforgivably naïve survey of the problem. A ragbag of songs, sketches and statistics, it opts for breadth over depth, skims surfaces and says little you don’t already know. In order to illustrate the issues, it so simplifies things that its cotton-wool idealism is plain to see. It’s like a GCSE Drama piece by Jeremy Corbyn.

Four promising young performers – all cherrypicked from some of the best emerging companies of the moment – lay out the basics with the breezy cheer of Blue Peter presenters. The lone bass guitar and cardboard set point to a punk attitude and a poverty, neither of which the piece really possesses. Stage images scarcely register, stats don’t stick and the shapeless, scattershot structure shows up the absence of any real argument – let alone any in-depth consideration of the wider economics of play. In fact, by fixating on poor doors and Right to Buy, the whole thing seems to have been researched using a discarded copy of Metro.

The biggest problem is its fondness for extremes. London is reduced to its have-lots and have-nots: a city of tycoons and council tenants facing eviction. (No prizes for guessing which side the piece takes.) The finish is a face-off: Ruth Chambers, a young single mother turfed out of her council flat, versus malevolent property magnate Christian Candy, who’s currently converting a load of local properties into luxury flats. Boo, hiss, etc.

Not to be all Tory about it, but this strikes me as impossibly unfair. Chambers is afforded the luxury of being fictional. At best, she’s an amalgamation of individuals; at worst, a generic portrait of state dependency. No thought for the cost. Candy, meanwhile, is a real person, pinned down and demonized for all London’s ills. He might well be a shitbag – and a man that names his kids after tax havens likely is – but he’s a symptom of a crocked system, not the big bad boss at the end of the game. Pinning the problem on him alone is as ludicrous as it is imbecilic. Candy and his brother started their business by doing up one flat themselves. No mention of that. Was that so wrong? Where did their business tip into immorality? What of their employees?

Besides, really, what does this change? Christian Candy’s not going to pop in, still less repent and throw open the doors of One Hyde Park, nor will Chambers be spared eviction by our soft-focus sympathy. Calling for revolution to destabilise the market, simply fucks us all in the crash. Huff and puff all you want, the housing crisis can’t just be blown down – not even with this much hot air.

This Is Private Property runs at Camden People’s Theatre until 30 January.