Theatre Review: No Sweat (Pleasance Theatre, London) ★★★★

Created in collaboration with LGBTQ+ homeless or formerly homeless people (24% of the UK’s homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ+), No Sweat unravels the experiences of three young Londoners. Written and directed by Vicky Moran, the enlightening and surprising, sometimes shocking play brings into sharp focus an issue that is largely hidden in our our app-swiping, appearances-are-everything culture and delivers a searing critique of the bureaucratic indifference and society’s often wilful ignorance that exacerbate the crisis.

Tristan (Denholm Spurr) and Charlie (Manish Gandhi). Photo credit: Ali Wright

The setting is Flex, a twenty four sauna, where we meet Tristan (Denholm Spurr, who has experienced homelessness himself) a naive, well-spoken graduate from Surrey; Alf (James Haymer, associate artist of UK’s Cardboard Citizens), a more experienced working class lad from Wales and Charlie (Manish Gandhi, BBC’s Silent Witness), a Pakistani asylum seeker, fighting to prove his sexuality to gain UK citizenship, working as a cleaner at Flex. 

The sauna provides a vital refuge for these young men and as they interact with each other we begin to learn more about them; the cultural differences and essential similarities in their lives and the experiences that have brought them to where they are now.

Charlie (Manish Gandhi), Tristan (Denholm Spurr), Alf (James Haymer).
Photo credit: Ali Wright

Appearances are not what they seem. Tristan defends his plummy southern accent, telling Alf ‘not everyone from Surrey is posh you know’ whilst Charlie expresses frustrations about their unintended, yet nonetheless offensive, cultural stereotypes towards gay Asian men.

Verbatim interview recordings from people who have experienced homelessness, voiced by the actors, are played out at various points throughout, anchoring the play in a sobering sense of reality. All of the stories we are watching have come from real experiences.

Tristan (Denholm Spurr) and Charlie (Manish Gandhi). Photo credit: Ali Wright

The interviews also reflect the inability of our social institutions to deal with UK’s homeless crisis. Tristan faces the bland indifference of a social worker, while Charlie’s struggles with the Home Office highlight the insensitivity of a broken system. In fact Charlie’s story is gut-wrenching, with experiences of sexual abuse and violence, making his narrative particularly emotional potent. No Sweat reminds us that homelessness is a multifaceted issue that can affect people from all walks of life.

Alf (James Haymer). Photo credit: Ali Wright

No Sweat powerfully puts the UK’s hidden LGBTQ+ youth homeless crisis centre stage. Without preaching, the play shows us how we, as a society, treat the most vulnerable members of it, those who have lost family and with that a sense of belonging. Despite the subject matter No Sweat isn’t unrelentingly grim, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The play doesn’t offer easy solutions. But what it does so, is slowly draw you into the lives and personal histories of three real men who, for a time, stayed in a sauna when they had nowhere else to go. 

By Tomas Thornton

No Sweat runs Downstairs at London’s Pleasance Theatre February 4th – 29th 2020 at 8pm (Sundays 6pm, Saturday 22 and 29 3.30pm) Suitable for ages 16+. Tickets £12 – £16 available here .

No Sweat: Pay it Forward. No Sweat has been created in collaboration with members of the LGBTQI+ ex/homeless community and we want these people to see their stories on stage. No Sweat: Pay it Forward asks you to make a donation today so that those living on the margins of society can feel represented and see their stories reflected onstage, meet new people and benefit from the power of theatre. Every £15 donated pays for a ticket for a member of the homeless/ex-homeless community who may otherwise not be able to attend the show. For more information and to donate head to the Crowd Funder page here.

Tristan (Denholm Spurr). Photo credit: Ali Wright

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