Katie Guicciardi’s one-woman play tries to weave together two complex issues: homelessness and postnatal depression. The unnamed protagonist, played by Guicciardi, is rooted to her chair by the newborn baby at her breast. Effectively imprisoned in her Hackney flat, she stares out of the window, becoming fixated on the man who has taken up residence on the street outside.
In some ways, the new mother and the homeless man are echoes of each another. They are both isolated, both struggling, both in need of help. But Guicciardi’s character finds herself strangely jealous of her unwanted neighbour – at least people are bringing him food and asking him if he’s OK. Where are her home-cooked meals and offers of assistance?
The problem is that the offstage character feels like a ghost, a cipher for the speaker’s anxieties. The equivalence drawn between the two is uncomfortable, verging on problematic; they may both be floundering, but one has privilege and a roof above her head. There are moments when the protagonist acknowledges this disparity, reflecting in a detached sort of way on gentrification and the epidemic of rough sleeping, but it still feels like little more than a convenient device. The man outside exists to reflect the main character back to herself.
Like the long days that the speaker spends alone with her baby, Lisa Cagnacci’s production drags, feeling longer than its 60-minute running time. Apt though this may be, the sluggishness is wearing. The large doll’s house occupying one half of Alex Marker’s set neatly suggests the mother’s claustrophobic surroundings, but Guicciardi’s interaction with this prop between scenes adds little to the drama and spoils the momentum.
Guicciardi is posing some important questions. What does it mean to be a good neighbour? How does society conspire to isolate individuals, and how can we break that pattern? Why are we so hesitant both to ask for and offer help? But this slow-moving, introspective drama never fully gets to grips with the social problems it identifies. While the protagonist is finally able to ask for help, the subject of her fascination simply disappears from view, his purpose served.