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Housing is a circus

The audience watches two performers dressed as fat cats. They are on the stage with a red silk and one is holding an eviction notice
'Fat cats' Kellie York and Tamati on stage during Home.

What’s the cost of finding a home? Whether renting or buying, securing a place to live in the UK can be like jumping through endless hoops – a process that takes a physical and emotional toll, as well as a financial one.

These are some of the themes at the centre of Home: The Intimacy of Debt and Inequality, an aerial circus cabaret show exploring housing as a financial asset, as well as a site of comfort, safety and intimacy.

Our labour, our bodies, are important to repay debt and to make homes a home’

The show is produced by Mareike Beck, a political economist at King’s College London, and is based on her research around asset management and inequality.

Beck, a first time director, collaborated with local circus company Blue Moon to put on the performance, which had a sliding scale of ticket prices – with renters paying less than landlords.

Priced out

Beck lives in Brighton and Hove on the south coast of England where Home debuted last month as part of the city’s Fringe festival. One of the UK’s most unaffordable cities, a three-bedroom house costs over 16 times the average household income. Rents also continue to rise, with figures from September last year showing an annual increase of 7 to 25 per cent depending on the size of the home.

The eye-watering cost of rent, as well as the precarity of life funding the asset of a landlord is summed up during the show in a stark performance by the excellent AFLO. the poet. After years of living in insecure housing, and down tens of thousands of pounds in rent, the spoken word artist is being moved on again as her landlord wants to sell up.

‘I wanted to shift the conversation a bit away from talking about the problem of a housing ladder being that more people need to be able to buy a home,’ says Beck. ‘Maybe thinking about the housing system as a ladder isn’t a good idea; the way we organize home ownership excludes so many from having a secure and stable home.

‘Any of my friends, anyone at my age or my stage of career needs parental help to buy a house so that’s a kind of asset based inequality. It’s perhaps not so much an intergenerational problem but a problem of class that is racialized and gendered. If your family has a house and therefore has an asset already, then the kids are very likely to receive financial help to buy their own house.’

Emotions running high

I had expected to be entertained but what surprised me most about the show was how emotional it was.

From Kellie York’s opening trapeze act alongside Sita Eliza’s beautiful rendition of the Cinematic Orchestra song ‘I built a home for you for me’, to the tragi-comedy of Tamati’s final aerial hoop performance portraying the protracted cycle of working more to try and buy a house in a market where prices keep rising and mortgages are harder to secure, the performances resonate with anyone who’s struggled to find a home to call their own.

‘I’m exploring the concept of everyday leverage which is all the work that is needed for us to buy a home and then leverage our own financial means,’ explains Beck.

‘The show was conceptualized around a research topic where I’m looking into the complexity of homes and the tensions that come from having a home which functions both as an everyday living space, and as a financial asset.’

AFLO the poet stands on stage looking to her right and wearing a red skirt.
AFLO. the poet during one of her performances.

Embodying the housing crisis

Using trapeze, contortion, acrobats and hoop acts, the performances in Home embody how people have to mould themselves and innovate to find and hold onto a place to live.

The gendered division of household labour was also a focus of the show, as Beck explains: ‘Feminists have shown how global markets are embodied. Our labour, our bodies, are important to repay debt and to make homes a home – the everyday living space that we create with our labour that’s often unrecognized, unpaid, and unevenly distributed.’

It was partly this physicality which attracted Beck to putting on an aerial show, to communicate her ideas through the medium of moving bodies. ‘Some people don’t like aerial acrobatics but everyone is fascinated by it. I wanted to reach a different level, perhaps of emotions or a different kind of engagement.’

Beck is keen to put on more performances of Home in Brighton and beyond and is seeking funding to get the show on the road.

‘As academics I think we would do well with thinking of different forms of how we engage with and communicate our work,’ says Beck. ‘From the feedback I got after the show people were really able to relate with the concepts and found themselves in the show because the housing crisis affects so many people. There was a different element I think I was able to reach with aerial acrobatics that I don’t think I’ve ever reached with my academic papers.’

There is a podcast series about the making of Home: The Intimacy of Debt and Inequality, including more insights from Mareike Beck and the show’s performers which is available on Spotify.


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