Turfed: tackling child homelessness. Image by Andrew Esiebo
Turfed: tackling child homelessness. Image by Andrew Esiebo

Brazilian director Renato Rocha is not obsessing about his country’s chances at the World Cup this month, even though his play Turfed, which opens this month at Hackney Downs Studios, is inspired by the ‘beautiful game’.

“If Brazil wins then people forget its problems so many of us are not supporting Brazil,” he says.

Tensions have been running high in the country with protests against the cost of staging the tournament and the comparative lack of investment in public services.

But for Rocha it’s not a case of either/or; a fairer society versus the spiralling cost of a football competition. His idea is to harness the global pull of football to raise awareness of another global problem: child homelessness.

In partnership with the Street Child World Cup, Turfed uses a young international cast, some with experience of living on the streets in London, Tanzania, the Philippines and Brazil, to tell stories of homelessness using football as a metaphor for life.

“In Brazil it’s like everything is about football,” says Rocha. “I had the idea of the analogy of the ball as an opportunity in life: so to receive the ball you have to be ready, but when you do receive the ball what do you do with it?”

Rocha has devised the play alongside the actors, who use their own experiences and stories but retell them in a non-linear way through a series of footballing analogies using dance, visual art and and music.

“Some speak with dance, some use poetry and others speak more with music. That’s the challenge that we give to them,” he says.

Rocha recalls a story about going to a hostel in central London with the crew to audition people for the play. One crew member, a life-long Londoner, confessed to not knowing the hostel existed. Rocha found this revealing. “If you don’t know, how do you solve a problem that’s an invisible problem?” he says.

“We want not just to show the audience the problem but to try to make them put themselves in that situation. If you are on the streets what do you do? Why are people living on the streets? Why do they leave their homes?”

In the UK, says Rocha, homeless children are not living on the streets like they are in Brazil. “Actually the reasons that make people to go to the streets and leave their homes are often the same,” he says and gives family, sexual abuse, domestic violence, alcohol and poverty as examples.

With Turfed, Rocha hopes to turn the tide of ‘invisibility’, though whether the play will help directly he doesn’t know. “The world is fast and people don’t have time to see,” he sighs. “But I always use the analogy of the guys who went in search of India but instead they discovered America. It might not have been what they were looking for but at least they discovered something.”

Turfed is at Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT from 9-21 June.


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