ruff  Tuff
The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


Back in the heady days of 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, tank tops, kipper ties and flares, we were newly confirmed members of the EEC and punk was just around the corner, a group of revolutionaries set up an estate agency in Hammersmith, London for squatters.

Their main focus is the thousands of empty council properties that are uninhabitable. Who knows how much is truth and how much fiction but it makes a great story and a great musical.

There are a few resonances to 2021, there is a housing crisis and a three-day week caused by oil price hikes, the Wilson government is in deep crisis, no pandemic though and Coventry is unrecognisable. The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency is part of the City of Culture Festival of Homelessness, with a community choir adding voice, literally, to calls for ‘real change’.

The central characters are John ‘Mad Dog’ Sky, a poet and overworked leader with a serious drink problem, also running a newsletter and Rebel Radio; and Lu newly arrived in London from Coventry after an abusive relationship plus her friend Ali who intend to set up a female rock band.  

The other Ruff Tuff volunteers welcome them and they in turn volunteer to work in the agency and find homes for as many homeless as they can with some really inventive thinking that allows the Greater London Council to buy into their housing crisis solutions until there is less need for the service.

The music, from Chumbawumba’s Boff Whalley, is memorable and good. Members of the cast are also multi-instrumentalists and the band on stage was excellent. There are some great songs here that made me think of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. The final number about Real Change brought the house down.

I enjoyed the show and its message wasn’t lost on me. The undertow of the story, the number of women forced into homelessness because of abusive relationships, as in Lu’s case, was sensitively handled. If I have a criticism, I was right at the back and it was often difficult to hear dialogue and impossible to hear lyrics. But this is a great show that I think has a life beyond a Festival of Homelessness.

Directed by Adrian Jackson, written by Heathcote Williams, adapted Sarah Woods this co-production from Cardboard Citizens, City of Culture Trust and Belgrade Theatre runs to 16-10-21.

Jane Howard


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