The Camden Roar: Human Jam at Camden People’s Theatre
Camden market, Hampstead Heath, Amy Winehouse and the British Library: this borough of London well and truly lives up to and warrants its iconic status. Now, in its 25th year, Camden People’s Theatre well and truly lives up to its name by hosting a festival by, for and about the inhabitants of the area. Fittingly the festival is called “The Camden Roar” and the voice we hear tonight is certainly far from a whisper.
The High Speed 2 railway line might not seem the most obvious subject for stage, but if any theatre is going to explore and examine it then CPT is more than justified in doing so. Not many know that 80% of the demolition required is taking place in Camden. This is one of many facts we are presented with over the course of the evening, with a history of Euston and its surrounding areas offered to us in an enlightening yet entertaining way. Much of the play focuses on St James’s Gardens, a park and former cemetery which is literally on the theatre’s doorstep. Once the home of wildlife, green space and basketball courts, it is now residence to the largest exhumation of graves in European history. Over 60,000 bodies are being excavated, but where will they go? As well as digging deep into the past, the play also touches on the parks, pubs, businesses and homes that are being swept aside, eradicated and forgotten in order to make way for a railway we don’t even really need.
Is the primary purpose of theatre to entertain or educate? Human Jam does both, providing numerous laugh-out-loud moments in spite of the serious subject matter. The performance opens with artistic director Brian Logan introducing himself and explaining the purpose of the play and how it came to be devised. Expecting him to step aside and allow the main performance to commence, we quickly discover that Brian is our leading man. This blending of reality and fantasy runs throughout with even lighting designer Tanya Stephenson getting in on the action, pretending there is an accidental blackout only for this to lead into Shamira Turner’s memorable entrance as the ghost of radical protestor Thomas Spence, the body of whom is among those being extracted from St James’s.
Logan and Turner created and devised the piece and offer assured and absorbing performances, with Logan’s comic timing and Turner’s impressive physical theatre and characterisation being of note. The fact that these two care so deeply about their community and the railway ramifications is what stands out the most, however, and the introduction of the real-life community choir only emphasises the anguish, despair and despondency rippling through the local area.
The amalgamation of docu-drama and surreal fantasy might not work for everyone, but the purpose of the piece remains at its centre throughout and, if anything, the somewhat unique approach only enables the facts and figures to stay with us as we vacate the theatre. By the end of the 70-minute performance, it is no exaggeration to say that we feel like Camden residents and share in their anger, upset and frustration. More than that though, we leave with the rare sense of a shared experience of human unity and that alone is worth far more than the 12-pound price of your ticket.
Photo: Ali Wright
Human Jam is at Camden People’s Theatre from 7th May until 25th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.