“Safe” from The Hackney Empire

Highlighting the shocking statistic that a quarter of homeless and at-risk youths identify as LGBTQ+ is the laudable aim of this theatrical work created and directed by Alexis Gregory.

Safe is a verbatim piece with the words of four contributors – Jack, Samuel, Alicia and Tami – performed by Elijah Ferreira, Taofique Folarin, May Kelly and Mary Malone. Judiciously given equal consideration, all four are carefully shown as individuals and not just representatives of their sexuality.

These lives have not been easy. Hearing about them can be a challenge and many questions are raised. Abuse at home and school unites all four. There is a distressing amount of physical violence. Drugs and drink play a part too: Alicia’s account of her alcoholism is particularly forceful.

Gregory is smart to make sure we get to know the four before we learn about their housing problems. It’s important to see how ‘homelessness’ is more complex than the issue of sleeping on the streets. Support, in particular from the Albert Kennedy Trust, thankfully kicks in. Homes – in a profound sense – are a part of a wider support system.

For all the troubles Safe is a positive show. The spirit of this quartet shines out. Moments when the actors double as other characters (mostly parents) are well done but might be unnecessary? The words of the subjects are powerful enough without another layer of performance. Frankness, honesty and Jack’s emphasis on the joy of his transition into a man (a particularly welcome narrative) show four survivors who inspire.

Gregory’s finale for the show is strong. Including a poem from Yrsa Daley-Ward that mentions “many possible ends” the four begin to address one another. Discussing how they feel about being interviewed enforces the theme of testimony. It’s possible to see what part the very act of representation might play towards safety itself.

Photos by Jane Hobson