In a highlight of Sherman Theatre’s 50th birthday year programme, the Cathays theatre and Hijinx present the world premiere of Housemates (6 – 14 October), a major new play telling the story of a house, just metres from the Sherman, that helped change the world.
In the 1960s, institutionalised care for many learning disabled people was the norm and went largely unchallenged. Many learning disabled people spent their lives in institutions, rarely seeing or encountering the world outside.
But then, in the early 1970s, something monumental happened in a Cardiff house, a street away from the Sherman, that became a new model for the way learning disabled people are supported. Housemates tells the remarkable story of what happened. Tim Green’s deeply moving play packs a punch and touches the heart, promising an uplifting night out filled with classic 70s hits played live.
In 1974, Cardiff University student volunteers and five young residents of Ely long-stay Hospital came up with an extraordinary idea. Taking on the might of the hospital authorities, they hit on a revolutionary idea and began lobbying for an alternative to institutionalised care. Their idea was to open a shared house in Ruthin Gardens – half students, and half residents of Ely Hospital. That house in Cardiff became the model for other houses across the city, across Wales and across the UK. In the years that followed, over a hundred thousand people were moved out of institutional care and into supported living houses based on the house in Ruthin Gardens. 96 institutions were eventually closed and the model of supported living pioneered at the house in Cardiff has since become the primary form of Learning Disability Social Care in the world.
Housemates tells the story through the real life friendship between Jim Mansell and Alan Duncan. Jim was a Cardiff University student volunteer. Alan was a young man born with Down’s syndrome who had lived as a resident in Cardiff’s Ely Hospital since childhood, All Alan wanted was to live in a house and be in a band. Together they and their friends asked the question “Why can’t learning disabled people live in the community with a bit more help and support?”.
Housemates is performed by a cast of neurodivergent and neurotypical actor-musicians. The cast includes Hijinx actors Gareth John (Meet Fred Hijinx & Blind Summit, Club Supreme Hijinx & Ramshackalicious) as Alan, Lindsay Foster (Meet Fred Hijinx & Blind Summit, The Crash Test Hijinx) as Heather, Matthew Mullins (Rock Cliché, The Crash Test Hijinx) as John and Richard Newnham (Meet Fred Hijinx & Blind Summit, The Crash Test Hijinx) as Dr Cooper alongside Natasha Cottriall (I Joan Shakespeare’s Globe; The Welkin National Theatre) as Sally, James Ifan known to Sherman audiences for his performances in Tales of the Brothers Grimm and A Christmas Carol as Birch / Ensemble, Caitlin Lavagna (Operation Julie Theatr na nÓg; Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical) as Sian / Ensemble, Peter Mooney (Beautiful Curve Theatre/Theatre Royal Bath; Just So Watermill Theatre) as Jim and Eveangeleis Tudball (Generation Atrium University of South Wales) as Julie.
Housemates is co-directed by Sherman Artistic Director Joe Murphy (Tales of the Brothers Grimm, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Sherman Theatre) and Hijinx Artistic Director Ben Pettitt-Wade (Meet Fred, The Flop, Mission Control Hijinx). The creative team also includes Carl Davies Designer (Pijin Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru & Theatr Iolo; Grandmother’s Closet Wales Millennium Centre), Rachel Mortimer Lighting Designer (Iphigenia in Splott Sherman Theatre), Tic Ashfield Arranger & Sound Designer (Heart of Cardiff audio series Sherman Theatre; Es & Flo Wales Millennium Centre and Kiln Theatre), James Ifan Musical Director, and Chris Laurich Sound Engineer (the_crash.test Hijinx; Glutz Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama).
Housemates, a partnership between Sherman Theatre and Hijinx, follows Romeo and Julie (with the National Theatre), Imrie (with Frân Wen) and the upcoming Peter Pan (with Theatr Iolo) in the Sherman’s series of co-productions for its 50th birthday year. This full length play follows Tim’s short audio play of the same name which was commissioned by Sherman Theatre for its lockdown Heart of Cardiff series. Innovate Trust, who under the name CUSS were the charity that founded the house are project partners. Today, Innovate Trust continues to support and empower learning disabled people across South Wales. Sherman Theatre and Hijinx would like to express their gratitude to Innovate Trust for their input into the development of the play.
Gareth John said “Housemates shows that Alan can be a person, not just a patient. Alan can be independent, make his own friends, play his drums, have choices, be listened to and be seen as a normal person. He wants to be free, to play his music. I’m looking forward to playing the drums in the show, and what it means to Alan.”
Joe Murphy said “It is a real privilege to bring this remarkable story in collaboration with Hijinx to the stage. It’s a story that would change the world and took place just over the street from the Sherman the year after we first opened our doors. It has been a wonderful process working with Tim on creating his moving, fun play from the seed of the short audio play he wrote for us during the height of lockdown in 2020. Housemates celebrates the right of self-determination and the dignity of every individual. We can’t wait to share this play with audiences in this our 50th birthday year.”
Ben Pettitt-Wade said “Housemates is a story rooted in Cardiff, that had a ripple effect around the world, that has changed the lives for hundreds of thousands of learning disabled and/or autistic people in this country alone, and continues to do so. It is a story of the importance of visibility, of access to opportunity, of the right to make decisions for ourselves, of perceptions, freedom, rebellion and inclusion.
“It is the story of the terrible conditions endured at Ely Hospital and other institutions like them, but at its heart is a friendship that was so strong it changed the course of history. It is a story close to Hijinx and our artists, and as such we are incredibly proud and excited to be able to collaborate with the Sherman and writer Tim Green in bringing this untold story to the stage”
Housemates is supported by funding from Arts Council of Wales.