dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Infectious and fun musical set in the seventies
Coventry's Belgrade Theatre has gone back in time to the 1970s with a new show The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency. Created by Cardboard Citizens, the production is inspired by true events and tells the story of a group of young people determined to tackle a lack of housing for the homeless.
Having moved into a squat, they have set up as the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency which forces entry to empty properties then hands the keys over to homeless people. And when a group of houses in Freston Road are threatened with demolition, they go a step further and proclaim the independent republic of Frestonia with free houses for all.
When Lu (Daisy Ann Fletcher) and Ally (Hannah Azuonye) arrive from Coventry, they believe the agency is the answer to their dreams – but the reality is that the pressure cracks are already showing.
At the helm of the agency is John 'Mad Dog' Host played by Joseph Tweedale. While fervently believing in providing 'squats for free' he's also up against a landlord attempting to reclaim their building and two police officers watching the premises.
And while Lu has moved to London to escape a violent partner, she is quickly pulled back into that relationship to the despair of Ally. In the meantime, Frestonia is under pressure from the local authority and the group are at risk of prosecution for breaking and entering.
Daisy Ann Fletcher as Lu and Hannah Azuonye as Ally
Despite all the heavy social messages, there is plenty of fun in the production with a hilarious couple of police officers who spend more time playing I-Spy than watching the agency and an unquenchable optimism from some of the young people.
There are plenty of great songs created by composer Boff Whalley of Chumbawumba fame and the talented cast are able to turn a hand to vocals and a host of musical instruments. It is a shame though that at times the music is so loud it drowns out the lyrics.
Directed by Adrian Jackson, founding director of Cardboard Citizens and written by Sarah Woods, the show moves at a rapid pace – particularly towards the end when the story suddenly seems to speed up to an over-hasty conclusion.
Designer Ruth Sutcliffe's set wonderfully recreates the seventies while also providing room for drumkits and pianos without the instruments looking out of place. She also makes good use of the auditorium with banners hung from balconies.
The professional cast is supported by a community choir, made up of people who have experienced homelessness in partnership with the Choir with No Name, who sing from the theatre boxes and have a few cameo roles.
There is a real energy and enthusiasm to this show which is infectious so that the audience can't help but root for the agency and its characters to win the day. By its close, the audience are cheering for the right decisions and up on their feet.
The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency forms part of Coventry UK City of Culture. It continues at the Belgrade until October 16, see www.belgrade.co.uk for more information.