‘How does this happen?’ screamed your conscience when you cowardly ignored that homeless man again. At that point, you remembered that you still hadn’t begun the quest for the magic equality key. Y’know, the one that will unlock the world’s doors to all.
Hopefully you may feel the same yearning for catharsis or understanding. Parallel attempts this by exploring the stories of three different characters without permanent residence throughout one night.
This new play recently took its first steps at the Harrogate Theatre, which is great for a couple of reasons: Firstly, it introduced me to a welcoming and vibrant creative space outside of Leeds, and, secondly, because you wouldn’t assume there to be homelessness in Harrogate. It’s a spa town with a roaring trade of tea shops and expensive cake. However, there’s a growing trend of local people not only concerned about homelessness, but trying to do something about it: Haunt is another project that explores this issue.
It’s a sign that some people are unafraid to tackle the feeling of helplessness we all experience with the homeless…issue? crisis? problem? A thing so complicated you stumble when describing it in one word.
The premise starts off simple: Beth is sat glumly on the street, bags by her side. Anna misses a bus home and, with no charged phone and no change, she asks Beth for help. After brief awkwardness they wearily share some booze to then be interrupted by eccentric C, claiming they’re on ‘her patch’. They drip feed their life stories by enduring the presence of the strangers they’re trapped with.
Parallel is enjoyable, surprising and genuinely funny. It pulls humour out of being homeless, which is an impressive feat, and handles the delicate subject matter by taking it out of its packaging and hugging it. I wouldn’t have described it as dark humour which Black Toffee Theatre do, though. There’s a kind of gallows humour vibe but it can be both sad and silly.
Roles of a dice
Every night the role that each actor plays is determined by an audience member rolling a dice. It’s clever because it adds to the message of the play: that homelessness can come randomly to anyone. I admire the work of the cast and crew for this because they set themselves up to prepare six different shows. It must have been an exhausting process!
It means there’s an extra re-watch value which I’ve sadly yet to experience. On the opening night I saw version five which saw cast Seda Yildiz, Laura Lindsay (who also wrote the show) and Arabella Gibbins play the roles of Anna, Beth and C respectively. They felt right for each of these parts and now that I’m trapped seeing them in these roles, I would be really keen to see the different version. The show is touring but I hope that it makes it up to the Edinburgh Fringe, giving everyone a chance to see a different show every night, if they’re lucky!
Unexpected questions and assumptions
As one should always expect from well thought out theatre, there are questions rather than answers. One of these was: What exactly is homelessness?
Before you run away and punch philosophy books in a rage blackout: have a think. What about that person who’s just staying a few nights at a friend’s house while they get onto their feet? Each of the three characters in the play represent three different states of homelessness, a night, a few nights, a longer period of time. This was demonstrated through costume: a posh handbag, a rucksack and shopping bags.
Another assumption questioned was of gender: this is an all female cast. It made me realise how some people automatically associate men with homelessness, when this isn’t the case at all and Parallel highlights this.
Interested in Harrogate theatre? Check it out. It’s five minutes from the train station and could make a great change for an evening out if you live in Leeds.
Black Toffee Theatre worked in partnership with Crisis and Harrogate Homeless Project to develop the show. Keep up to date with Black Toffee Theatre’s latest projects!