No Sweat has recently opened at The Pleasance Theatre, where it runs until 29 February. Book at the theatre website.

Combining real stories, verbatim interview clips and an original score, No Sweat reveals stories from within the world of gay saunas – a common place for young homeless people to seek accommodation.

I asked Vicky Moran, writer and director of No Sweat, to tell me a bit more about her play.

Manish Gandhi, James Haymer and Alistair Wilkinson in No Sweat rehearsals
Manish Gandhi, James Haymer and Alistair Wilkinson in No Sweat rehearsals

1. A lot of people know very little about the LGBTQ+ homelessness crisis. How does No Sweat contribute to the wider debate about caring for those on the streets?

The play explores the hidden homeless and therefore doesn’t actually go into street homeless issues as such – as this is the side of homelessness that most of us come into contact with every day.

With the hidden homeless narrative – It’s about catching it before things start to spiral and then contributes to the wider rough sleeping epidemic. It’s about educating that you are homeless enough and you can seek help, just because you aren’t at the lowest of the low and sleeping rough.

I think it’s part of the problem that we perceive homelessness as having to be on the street and therefore those that are vulnerable or at risk don’t even realise before it’s too late.

The thing about LGBTQ+ homelessness is that you wouldn’t necessarily see them on the streets because apps like Grindr or saunas exist and therefore there are other options for you that mean you aren’t as visible, but are still putting yourself in risky situations. e.g a lot of people survive sex-working. 

2. Do you think perceptions have improved about the LGBTQ+ community in general or is it still a sizable but disregarded minority?

I think it has improved for sure, but people think LGBTQ+ people have equal marriage and we’re all good now. And the truth is we’re not. There are still so many people who are victims of hate crime and prejudice in our society and yes it is better, but it’s still a huge issue. 

The play really delves into lots of causes of LGBTQ+ homelessness. 24% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ and a staggering 77% of them cite that coming out to their parents and facing rejection was the main contributing factor.  

LGBTQ identifying homeless youth are significantly more likely to experience targeted violence, sexual exploitation, substance misuse and physical and mental health problems than their hetero sexual peers. Some of the stats are really revealing.

Lara Costello and Vicky Moran in No Sweat rehearsals
Lara Costello and Vicky Moran in No Sweat rehearsals

3. Tell me a bit about the characters of Tristan, Alf and Charlie. How much of their real lives, stories and words remain in the finished show?

Tristan is based on Denholm Spurr’s story of when he was homeless in London for four years and using saunas as accommodation. The play follows his journey and his character and the story is totally real and based on his life.

Alf is a fictional character based on research I underwent on the case of a young man whose parents were religious and kicked him out. Actor James Haymer also has lived experience of homelessness himself, so when in rehearsals throughout the process he would share parts of his story, and then we would add in his words into the show. Alf is this really interesting hybrid of research and reality – but his story could be so many people’s.

Charlie is based on an asylum seeker I met with who fought to gain citizenship in the UK based on his sexuality. They didn’t believe he was gay. Charlie’s story is real and a lot of it is taken verbatim, or taken from other asylum cases like this too. Particularly his interview with the Home Office which is a key scene in the play – that is word for word transcribed. It’s a really uncomfortable scene to watch – but it hasn’t been theatricalised. That is the reality.  

4. Verbatim pieces of theatre seem to be on the increase. I have attended a couple which have actors wearing headphones and repeating the words they hear. Does No Sweat utilise this approach or is it more of a script the actors have learned?

I chose to create a script. I think because we are fortunate to have the actors play ‘themselves’ or at least characters that are parallel to their experiences of homelessness – we don’t need to listen to someone else’s voice and repeat words.

The script was created in collaboration with the actors and was constantly developing as we discovered new parts of the actors stories. It was a collaboration and they put their mark on the script so they could take ownership over it, and feel empowered telling their own stories.

The other device we use is audio recordings of interviews – some of which have been re-recorded for anonymity purposes. These act as a reminder of the reality of the crisis and allow the audience an insight into some areas that we wouldn’t be able to explore without the clips.

5. Using the gay sauna scene as a backdrop seems like a new approach. I honestly didn’t know that young homeless people seek shelter there. Do you think this is a safe solution to a growing problem?

No its definitely not safe. There are issues around consent and drugs but it’s a space where people feel safe in their sexuality. Most people would prefer to stay in a sauna than on the street at the risk of receiving homophobic abuse.

So it’s a necessary space in terms of people discovering who they are and feeling safe in that way, but no it’s not a solution to our ridiculous housing problem. We just need more housing. More LGBTQ+ specific housing. 

6. What message do you hope audiences will take away from No Sweat?

To change their definition of homelessness. To realise so much of it is hidden. To understand that this problem is huge and needs to be talked about.

1 in 4  young homeless people are LGBTQ+ and that fact alone tells us that sexuality or gender identity plays hugely into why people end up homeless. Look out for you LGBTQ+ peers, check in on them, because we need to stop other LGBTQ+ people going down the same route as those in the play. 

Ptomotional image for No Sweat

My thanks to Vicky for her time and answers, and to producer Reece McMahon for facilitating this interview.

Please consider supporting this production or making a donation to help LGBTQ+ homeless at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/no-sweat-4-29-feb-220-pay-it-forward

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