Actor and playwright Stephen House’s acclaimed one-man show Appalling Behaviour makes its belated Sydney debut at Newtown’s King St Theatre next week, following three years of cross-country touring and almost 100 performances.
The road-tested show has proved a controversial hit for audiences and critics alike, dealing as it does with the issue of homelessness.
“It really divides people, this show, because it comes from a very edgy place. Audiences often say they’ve never heard the stories of people like this guy – they see them huddled on street corners, or screaming at nothing, or sitting and begging. They don’t know the stories, but meeting this character, I hope it gives them a glimpse of the human side,” House told the Star Observer.
Appalling Behaviour’s unnamed central character is living rough on the streets of Paris, sleeping by the Seine and seeking solace from the other street dwellers populating the ‘city of love’. He’s bisexual, and spends his days liaising with sex workers and hookers of both sexes. House explained the story, while fictional, came from a period of very gritty research.
“I was in Paris spending time with people who were living on the streets and in cheap boarding houses, and I kind of lived in that world myself. I was really struck by how homelessness isn’t just the stereotype of dirty people under a bridge somewhere,” he said.
“A lot of people experiencing homelessness still put on a jacket and go out to a club, still go to a café for their morning coffee…it’s not about crawling around in the dirt; homelessness is so broad and it’s on a lot of people’s doorsteps.”
It certainly is – the old adage that all of us are just a few missed paychecks away from homelessness is probably truer than ever now, given the world’s increasingly perilous economic state.
It may go some way to explaining why so many of us feel uncomfortable around the homeless, and go out of our way to avoid them – something that’s not an option when confronted with House’s street-dwelling character, pouring his heart out on stage for over an hour. It’s an affecting, deeply humanising portrayal of a population who are all too
“I’ve chatted to people on the street for many years, including one old lady who always used to sit on Oxford St. I sat and drank cask wine with her and talked to her… I started to hear the incredible stories and the deep feelings within these people. They’ve had families, have kids, have dreams of a better life, but they’ve fallen on hard times. Addiction, mental illness, or just bad luck. That vulnerability was what inspired me to write
Ultimately, though, House wanted his protagonist’s resilience to shine through.
“I think the fact that he even manages to survive another day speaks quite powerfully to audiences,” he said.
info: Appalling Behaviour, King St Theatre Newtown, July 2-13. www.kingstreettheatre.com.au