Homeless crisis takes centre stage

A new play in aid of Cork Penny Dinners has been informed by real stories of life on the streets. writes Colette Sheridan

Una Ryan in costume for her role in Here’s A Penny. She plays a member of a Greek chorus.

A play about homelessness, Here’s a Penny, set at Christmas time, has an air of authenticity about it because this devised drama, directed by Marion Wyatt, is based on people who, for various reasons, have ended up sleeping on the streets. One of the cast has experienced homelessness but doesn’t want to be identified.

Wyatt was talked into creating the play by Caitriona Twomey, head volunteer at Cork Penny Dinners. The idea was to come up with a drama, inspired by the charity’s anthem ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. Written by musician, Malcolm Urquhart, the song has been recorded by the High Hopes Choir who will perform at the end of the play every night. The score has been created by Orla Daly. The production, at the Cork Arts Theatre, is in aid of Cork Penny Dinners.

Wyatt, who recently raised funds for the charity through an exhibition of her visual art work, says while she has never experienced homelessness, she has felt vulnerable. “Through the years, because of working in theatre, I’ve known hungry days back in the ’80s when myself and my family weren’t secure,” says Wyatt. “But I’ve always had family and friends that I could lean on.”

Wyatt was given stories by Twomey about homeless people she has encountered and helped. With the permission of these people, their experiences and struggles are used in the play. “Caitriona Twomey has educated me about the homeless.”

Homelessness is not as cut and dry as being solely a result of addiction, remarks Wyatt. “The stories I’ve heard are sometimes about abuse. A person can end up on the streets because of mental, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. We don’t shy away from that in the play. Caitriona has also spoken about the people who wear suits but can’t pay their mortgage.”

Wyatt is angry at the fact Ireland’s homelessness crisis is ongoing. She directed an adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Cork Arts Theatre two years ago, also in aid of Cork Penny Dinners.

Dominic Moore plays ‘man’, the main character in Here’s a Penny, who is aged fifty. “The play is one day in the life of this man. It’s his journey through Cork City and it’s about the things that happen to him and the people he encounters.”

Moore, who has spoken to homeless people, is passionate about the plight of citizens without a roof over their head. “I guess what we’re trying to say is that there are a lot of people who are suffering really deeply on a day-to-day basis in this city. How do we help them? Do we help them by giving them a fiver? Or do we help them by smiling at them or giving them a tuna sandwich that they don’t like, but we don’t know that? What we hope this play will do is inform the audience that the best way of helping the homeless is to write to their local representatives and try to improve the system that we’re in.”

While Moore believes it is the system that is failing people, he adds: “The homeless are not entirely blameless. Sometimes, maybe it’s easier to pretend to be a baby so that you can get what you want day to day. We should give the homeless hope to help them overcome the powerlessness they feel and show them that there’s a better way.”

The character Moore plays is a composite of various homeless men. Does he have addictions? “We don’t say. There are hints that maybe he had a troubled home life. We don’t really want to concentrate on addictions because they can be a symptom rather than a cause. Maybe the character had a troubled childhood. Maybe he might drink a little bit too much. The homeless need to stand on their own two feet and get the help they need — and not in a bottle of whiskey.”

Here’s a Penny is at Cork Arts Theatre on December 12-19.

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