Taking place inside the Bethesda Theatre, the audience entered into the experience: a strict briefing, tightly controlled movements, hard seating and, if they were lucky enough to get one, a blanket to huddle together underneath through the forty minute performance of dance and visual effects.
The action took place around the semi-restored church - itself a miraculous symbol of recovery requiring years of hard grind by volunteers - with the pulpit providing the main actor's safe space to sleep. Visual effects created clever illusions of snow drifting up, wobbling walls and ghosts in every corner. Many of the projections and sets were childlike in their portrayal of houses and comfortable imagined windows, which made small children's performances of insecure, freezing nights and family conflicts even more heartbreaking.
Live organ and songs performed by a well-wrapped choir echoed the Bethesda's roots as a spiritual home and it was convincing as a space where the homeless would find both refuge and new danger. Recorded voices broke into the space, mingled in with the live action and projections to tell the stories of both men and women who have found themselves homeless over the decades in a city where there is considered to be surplus housing.
The performance was superb in building empathy through the experience rather than preaching. It didn't explain too much, rather allowing long, meditative stretches for the audience to decide meanings for themselves. It avoided sentimentalising the experience of the homeless, but still showed the upsides and the quiet hands that increasingly provide the city's only safety net.
The run took place just days before a host of benefit cuts and tax rises hit the poorest in our city. We already have a rapid increase in food bank dependency and will undoubtedly see more evictions over the next few months. We're not a city that shouts very loud. Rather than get angry, people get their heads down and get on. PALACE was authentic in its representation of the city's energy and dignity, a groundbreaking piece of work that did justice to its surroundings.
PALACE will soon be available on DVD from restoke and for a taste of the experience, here's the trailer: