In Memory of Leaves: ‘The play is about displacement. Where else to do it but on a boat?’
- Credit: Archant
Actress and campaigner Natasha Langridge tells Bridget Galton why performing her monologue In Memory of Leaves on a barge at Camden Lock and Hackney Wick will focus minds on London’s social housing crisis
The burnt out husk of Grenfell Tower is just a short walk from Natasha Langridge’s estate, which is undergoing major regeneration.
It was the destruction of a popular park – and her love of a particular cherry tree - that sparked her topical monologue dealing with, love, protest and London’s housing crisis.
After first performing In Memory of Leaves as a site specific piece on North Kensington’s Wornington Green estate, she now plays on a barge at Camden Lock and Hackney Wick.
Langridge sees the rebuilding of Wornington Green as a community destroyed: “My estate is being demolished and rebuilt into luxury flats, it’s happening all over the city. There was a beautiful cherry tree and a park beneath my window. I loved that tree and used to hear all these characters; a Moroccan family having their lunch, a Spanish couple canoodling, that tree had a lot of stories to tell. But one day the developers chopped it down and threw it on the ground. I was heartbroken. I still feel her presence it’s like an aura of a tree, soft and strong.”
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Developers say the 1,000 mixed tenure homes in Kensington and Chelsea are for “social rent, private sale and shared ownership.”
With Grenfell “just 10 minutes away” the Occupy London campaigner feels she is living in “a toxic cloud” of displacement, and a “chronic lack of decent affordable housing”, topics she articulates through the prism of a strange love affair with an old flame.
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“I had to express how I felt. So many people used and loved that park, it was an integral part of that community. We are witnessing the death of a fabulous, diverse community. It will have been smashed, the people who lived here won’t be there afterwards, it will be £1m flats for super-rich investors who will leave them empty.
“Kensington and Chelsea have a particularly brutal agenda to get rid of the social housing, but this social cleansing is going on across the whole of London, lots of people are being pushed out and there will be no more character.
She adds: “I have always lived in London, I love London with a passion but we are clinging on, I am in a precarious situation in a housing Co-op and living on a building site is the only way I can live in my city.”
Langridge hopes both social housing tenants living in fear of being turfed out of their homes and private owners “unsettled by the destruction they are seeing around them” to see the show.
“I want them all to come and sit in the same boat to listen to a story.”
Part of the Occupy London movement calling for greater global equality, she was at St Paul’s in 2011 and more recently arrested during a nine day occupation of Parliament Square. She also visited the Calais jungle before it was bulldozed, and her monologue talks about how difficult she found it.
“I was shocked at my own response. I couldn’t take in what I was seeing, the conditions people were living in, huts made of wood and tarpaulin. The fact they haven’t got the freedom to be where they want to be. Some had been there for two years, they have no hope and can’t go back to war zones”
She hopes the deeply personal show on the Fordham Gallery Barge will reflect the experience of living in a shifting landscape, connect other communities facing destructive regeneration, and act as a rallying cry.
“A boat is a vessel for movement and change, the play is about displacement. Where else to do it but on a mobile home?” she asks.
“London’s boaters are themselves part of the crisis because it’s one of the only ways of living in London if you are not rich. The boat will move through London, linking up communities affected by the housing crisis, Hackney has gentrified beyond all recognition and Camden Market is being threatened by regeneration.
“The piece is from the heart but it’s also political, really everything is in crisis, the NHS, our education system, I don’t understand why we aren’t all out on the streets demanding it stops.”
In Memory of Leaves is at Camden Lock Regents Canal October 11-14 and Hackney Wick October 18-21.