We talk to the pair behind the performance piece coming to Lakeside Theatre next week which shines a timely light on the comi-tragedy of the lives of Generation Rent.
Colchester-born Rebecca Biscuit and long-time friend and collaborator Louise Mothersole live and work together in an inner London Borough, renting a flat from a 'dodgy' landlord in the regally named Windsor House. When ominous-looking post piled up on their welcome mat addressed to numerous previous tenants, the pair discovered that, under certain circumstances it is not in fact illegal to open other people's mail, as is often thought, and they began to delve into the stories the letters revealed.
Their investigations form the basis for the award-winning performance piece they bring to the Lakeside Theatre next week, illuminating a legacy of highly-paid and yet deeply in debt renters, frightening lessons in the dangers of compound interest, a shock about the state of their own tenancy and ultimately the deep inequalities that plague our current housing crisis. Indeed, when asked what the most shocking thing they discovered on the journey through past tenants' lives they confirm that it was the fact that everyone, absolutely everyone, was in debt.
For those of us stuck in the private rental market, it's a familiar tale, and discrimination against those who rent rather than buy seems to be a peculiarly British obsession. Rebecca and Louise agree. "In Germany, for example," they say, "rental contracts are much longer than in the UK, at least 3 to 5 years, and you can decorate the houses in any way you like: You are expected to treat it like your own home. In the UK tenancies are far shorter, more fleeting, renting feels far more precarious so owning a home feels like a more stable option. It’s also bloomin’ cheaper in the long-run, as long as you’re well-off enough to have enough money up front. Renting itself is not a problem. Unfortunately, there is a lot of greed that the system allows to happen. People charge twice what the mortgage of a property is worth to renters. They do this because they can."
Are landlords always the problem then, I wonder? "It’s a very complicated situation," say the pair, "and we try to demonstrate empathy with everyone involved – the landlord, the underfunded council and our flatmates." And they do - the show isn't strident. It's an entertaining mix of comedy, song and detective work, but the duo hope that they observe objective facts in a way that demonstrates their ridiculousness, and so the show naturally advocates change. It is the lack of choice their generation faces, that particularly grates.
When I ask, what next for Rebecca and Louise, the answer is a refreshing, "We don’t know what we’re going to have for dinner this week. We just live day-to-day and hope we can afford the rent next month. We don’t live a life where we can plan for the future." These women are truly of their generation, and their outlook on life, and its unfairness is wry, witty and ultimately, down-to-earth. I press them - how about as performers, as Sh!t Theatre? "We’re making a show about Dolly Parton," they chuckle, "We f**king love Dolly Parton."
The heartbreaking and hilarious Letters to Windsor House is at the Lakeside Theatre from Thursday, May 25th, Tickets are two-for-one if you use the code SUMMER when booking online.