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BrumHour saw The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency at the invitation of Belgrade Theatre.
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
This production contains strong language and explores themes including; domestic abuse and alcohol dependency.
Review: The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency at Belgrade Theatre
Directed by Adrian Jackson, Book and Lyrics: Sarah Woods with music by Boff Whalley and based on an original work by Heathcote Williams
It’s the late 1970s, Ally (Hannah Azuonye) has brought her friend Lu (Daisy Ann Fletcher) from Coventry to London to escape Lu’s abusive relationship. They have heard of The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency which breaks into places for squatters to freely live in for periods of time.
The agency is run by John “Mad Dog” (Joseph Tweedale) who later struggles with alcohol caused particularly by the stress of managing an increasing number of locations. Elsewhere, Alan (Matthew Burns) and Rosie (Hollie Cassar) have relationship issues to deal with.
At first glance this is a rock musical but further in it becomes a musical drama as the brash humour takes a back seat for the seriousness of the characters situations. There is tonnes of heart and passion about storytelling here and it both drives the stories and the lyrics throughout. As these are based on real lives there is no real beginning or end just the moments we arrive in these characters lives and when we leave them, this adds a real sense of reality to the proceedings too.
For me, there were moments when there was a little too much going on on the stage. An intimate moment slightly distracted by setting up for the next moment, the set is pretty busy too, there seemed to be six or so static areas for drama to take place as well as the excellent Choir With No Name in the eaves of the stage. I could see this touring and being stripped back to three areas at the front and maybe another two at the back, with the choir higher up at the rear of the stage.
Whilst busy, the set itself features a lot of recycled items and repurposed items, having the pair of 6ft security fences form a backdrop with the Thames lit up is beautiful and it is great seeing the use of projected films at moments to show us elements from the real community of Frestonia in London.
This is an ensemble piece about community, community sprit and banding together to be stronger, and those direct values really appealed to me. It was thrilling to have the choir at the sides like this and made the audience feel right in the middle of the action, particularly when we are spoken to during important moments. I left the theatre feeling challenged, thoughtful and hopeful.
A bold and challenging musical drama, The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency is at Belgrade Theatre until 16th October. Book tickets here: belgrade.co.uk/events/the-ruff-tuff-cream-puff-estate-agency