Bodyguard review

The Bodyguard review

by Melissa O’Biern

Straight from the West-End to the East-End – East Midland’s DeMontfort Hall, that is – this is a concert, a movie and a musical, all rolled in to one. And it is with us for eleven days only. Showing from 15th-26th March before moving onto its next leg.

This stage adaptation of 1992s movie The Bodyguard just about has it all. Pyrotechnics envelope the stage seconds into the performance and the explosions do not stop there. Three-time Brit nominee and X Factor winner of 2008 Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron greets the audience with a performance worthy of a Grammy as she provides the voice of Whitney, delivered with the energy of Beyonce, and it certainly sets the scene for the rest of the two-hour performance.

Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016
Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard 2016

The story of Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer, based on the 1992 Warner Bros Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, is told beautifully, moved along by a sweet and nostalgic current of sixteen Whitney Houstin mega-hits, including One Moment in Time, Queen of the Night and I Have Nothing – all, of course, given the kiss of life by Burke’s contemporary and soulful delivery.
Global superstar diva Marron ‘s life is endangered by a crazed stalker convinced that they are meant to be together. Concerned for her well-being, her manager hires Secret Service Agent Frank Farmer (played by Stuart Reid), a no-nonsense, dry-humoured Bodyguard, renowned for his good work, to wrap her in the thick cotton wool that she requires. A man of business, versus a woman of freedom, and she initially resists his attempts to keep her safe – that is, until she falls in love with him.
Running parallel to this love story is the close yet fractured relationship between two Marron sisters, which becomes more apparent as the performance goes on. Nicki Marron (Melissa James) is modest ignored and slightly bitter, yet passive. Rachel is strong-willed and at the centre of the Universe. They seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, however they both have one thing in common – they both develop an ever-increasing interest in the Bodyguard. Is it to fill the overwhelming voids of emptiness that they are both feeling? The breath-taking duet of Run to You, delivered by the talented stars, may suggest so.
As the production rounds itself up to a finish, you can sense the almost unbearable anticipation of Houston’s most famous hit I Will Always Love You – and it does not disappoint. The Oscar aspiring Marron shines bright dressed head to toe in an Oscar trophy-esque gown, possibly mirroring her long-running Oscar ambitions which were a clear theme within the performance.
A very up-tempo and equally emotive performance delivered by Burke truly showcases her to have the full package – a singer, a dancer and an actress, displaying impressive choreography without even missing a note. This will be sure to leave you begging to ‘Dance With Somebody’.

See also:

Our review of Green Day’s American Idiot.

Our review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Religious theatre

25th March 2016

Leicester @ The Cross

Good Friday and Christians gathered in Humberstone, in Leicester city centre, for a celebration of Easter, the Christian festival that marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It was a bright sunny morning at Humberstone Gate began to fill with people. A large stage had been assembled at the Charles Street end of the wide pedestrian concourse.

Jonezy at The Abbey Park Fireworks, supporting The Vamps

On stage was a full live band and enormous puppets took part in the enactment of various parts of the easter story.

In a dramatic scene, an actor, playing the part of Jesus, was raised on the stage to portray the crucifixion.

Singer David Lewis leading the musical praise
Singer David Lewis leading the musical praise

The crowd was invited to join in with singing led by local musician David Lewis who had written a song especially for this event. David also sings with the local band Once Vagrant Souls.

A lively and inspriational performance was given by local artist Jonezy, the hip-hop singer from Loughborough who is well known in Leicester.

The act of worship was opened with prayers from the acting bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd John Holbrook.

A welcome address was given by the Archdeacon of Leicester, Revd Dr Tim Stratford.

Getting the message across with the help of a large screen

Scenes from the Easter story were enacted by giant puppets, making it easy for people to see what was happened from a long distance away.

A dramatic moment in the event was when an actor, playing Jesus, was hoisted up on stage, on a large wooden cross.

Public performances of the Easter story have been taking place in Leicester since the middle ages.

The whole of Humberstone Gate was filled with people, on this bright Friday morning and the local radio station was there to provide a live report.

Sheets were handed giving the words of the songs enabling people to join in with the singing, led by local musician David Lewis and backed by a substantial live band.

One of the highlights of the event was a performance by local hip-hop artist Jonezy, who performed several of his own songs, with plenty of zeal and energy.  This proved to be a hit with the crowd, for people of all ages but especially for the youngsters who were there.

On stage, actors and puppeteers portrayed scenes from the easter story including palm Sunday and the Crucifixion.

The event was organised on an inter-demoninational basis, drawing in members of the Anglican and Methodist faith traditions.

Jonezy performed his song I’m Alive, a positive vibe affirmation of the way he feels and a testimony to his Christian faith.

See more about this event on Music in Leicester magazine.


American Idiot

24th March 2016

American Idiot Review
Curve Studio

Our rating: *****

Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Director and Choreographer Racky Plews

Fifteen years ago I was watching Billy Joe Armstrong and his punk band Green Day performing live at The Reading Festival. I have been loving their music ever since. The audience in Curve Studio theatre tonight also loved it; they gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was one of the best musical events I have seen at Curve, or anywhere else for that matter.

So many things stood out for me in this show: all the cast members danced, sang and acted and played guitars; in fact in one scene they are all on stage playing guitars – en masse. You won’t see that again in a musical in a long time. The cast were very ably supported by a live band; some of the band guitarists were on stage, on a platform above the main performance area. The three principals sang songs accompanying themselves on guitars.

Green Day's American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March. Picture from 2015 London production. Photo: Darren Bell.
Green Day’s American Idiot runs at Curve from 19th March.
Picture from 2015 London production.
Photo: Darren Bell.

The moment that stole the show for me was Matt Thorpe singing Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; the Green Day song that has a special resonance for me; I quoted from the lyrics in my novel The Trench, were its sentiments epitomised what rock bands often seem to feel about working in live music. Not what the song is about but hey it seemed to fit anyway.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

American Idiot is a punk rock opera; its roots could be said to lie in the rich soil of Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and various other productions that have broken the mould of musical theatre over the past few decades. Green Day’s album of the same name was released in 2004, the musical being premiered in 2009 at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre prior to the show moving on to Broadway.

Tonight’s show at Curve’s Studio was absolutely marvellous. The standing ovation given by the audience at the final curtain was well deserved. The singing was fantastic, the dance was massively good, the acting amazing and the whole show a complete sensation.

American Idiot was exciting, colourful, dramatic, engrossing, poignant, enjoyable… no shortage of adjectives to describe how good it was. The show opens with the cast singing and dancing to American Idiot, the hit title song Green Day’s album of 2004. A number that fizzed with unbridled vitality.

Well maybe I’m the faggot America.
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.

Everyone in the cast was good but Matt Thorpe (who played Johnny) was pretty amazing; Tunny (played by Alexis Gerred) was electric and Amelia Lily (as Whatsername) wonderful, Steve Rushton as Will, superb. The performance of the cast sizzled with energy. These guys really rocked out bringing it all to life on the stage.

We did not see the drummer Alex Marchisone until he came on stage for the curtain call right at the end. But the guitarists were visible for most of the show which was great because seeing them playing live gave the whole thing an extra resonance.

The show tells the story of three friends from a suburban area, following different journeys in search of their true selves. Through the songs they express their love, their rage and their struggles. The theme of the show includes a preoccupation with TV and a screen is lowered over the stage from time to time. The story line revolves around the lives of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Will’s girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant. Johnny wanders through the city streets pining for a woman he saw in a window. Tunny enlists for the army. Johnny starts to shoot heroin. Will feels trapped in life as a father with a baby and Tunny is shot while on active service.

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

Well there is a lot more to the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you; I just want you to see it. American Idiot is one of the best productions I have seen at Curve – and there have been a few of them. The show’s eight day run in Leicester is a great shame, for its brevity,   but it’s on tour and many other audiences in many other towns will want to see it. The show is moving on to several other cities in the UK between now and July.

Find out more about the show on the American Idiot website

American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.
American Idiot. Amelia Lily as Whatsername. From the 2015 London Production. Photo: Darren Bell.

See also:

Our coverage of Rent, the musical

Blood Brothers review

Rocky Horror Show review

Music Education

Music Education

This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 23rd March 2016; it has been transferred to this blog.

Arts in Leicester visited Loughborough today (18th March 2016) to look at the work of The Loughborough Music School.

Loughborough Music School is part of the Loughborough Endowed Schools (LES) and is housed in a purpose-built building opened in 2006 by the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

LES Music Scool. Used with persmission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
LES Music Scool.
Used with persmission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

My host and guide today was Richard West, Director of Music. We visited several of the rooms in which classes and rehearsals take place; these are quipped with an impressive number of pianos, keyboards and drum kits. Richard showed me the IT room; again, another impressive display of equipment including computers that the students can use to compose music and edit the results.

LES music school interior
LES music school interior

The school also has a large hall suitable for staging concerts. Musical instruments were everywhere: guitars, cellos, harps… clearly this was a place where almost every imaginable musical instrument had a presence. Learning to play an instrument – any instrument – fosters a range of skills and a variety of mental facilities; these are things that stay with individuals throughout their lives.

Loughborough inside the Music School
Loughborough inside the Music School

The school focusses on the classical music repertoire but other genres also find a place in the many bands and orchestras populated by the students, including jazz. It’s not always about violins; there is plenty to suggest that students with an interest in rock music will have their needs met. These days musicians use a large array of things; gone are the days when only wood and cat-gut were all there was; now we have a a bewildering array of electronic gadgets, wires and boxes, all harnessing the new technology that has come to represent modern music-making.

LES Music School. Used with persmission. Photo: Jake Hilder
LES Music School.
Used with persmission.
Photo: Jake Hilder

The building had a light and airy feel to it; bright corridors and well lit study rooms made it welcoming and cheerful. The school is the second biggest specialist music department in the country, Richard told me.

Musician from LES. Used with permission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
Musician from LES.
Used with permission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

I asked Richard about the career prospects of the more musically inclined students. The School provides musical education for all the students attending the LES. Only some of these will plan to make music their chosen career. It is clear that musical education needs to start at an early age and the classes begin at Kindergarten age, at around three years. Students continue to benefit from the work of the music tutors through to sixth form.

LES spring concert at De Montfort Hall, 2016
LES spring concert at De Montfort Hall, 2016

It was particularly good to see so many full drum kits; I have never seen so many in one room before. Pianos are, of course, stock in trade for music education and the school has the distinction of being one of a select number of Steinway partners.

Musician from LES Music School. Used with permission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
Musician from LES Music School.
Used with permission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

Being able to see inside this prestigious school was a rare privilege for me. I was delighted to be able to attend the recent LES concert at the De Montfort Hall and was impressed by the high standard of performance shown by both the choirs and the various soloists who were on stage that night (see below for the link to our article.)

Music is an important part of the school curriculum; it always has been, even since the middle ages. There are many reasons why this important; not least the fact that the UK’s export of music is one of the country’s highest revenue earners. The music industry in this country has been thriving for several years and out-pacing several other sectors of the economy. Making music is good in itself but, as many teachers have found, it aids other aspects of children’s lives both personally and educationally. One more thing about music in schools is interesting, I think, it is a leveller. Children today come from a wide range of cultures and communities and all of them have their own musical traditions; being able to learn about the music of other cultures helps young people to appreciate and understand each other.

Loughborough is a town with a growing international notoriety in academia. Its University recently was voted top for students in the UK league tables and its contribution to sporting excellence has been known for a long time.

LES is not the only educational institution locally that has won positive acclaim. The work of Leicester College has also received many accolades, for its music courses and for its work in sound technology. The notable singer and songwriter Howard Rose, for example, is cited as one local musician to have benefited from its work.

We have also written about the work of De Montfort University in music education, technology and innovation (see the link below to our article about Arts Education.)

More information from

LES Music website.

The website for music education in the UK.

The website for Leicester-shire music education hub.

What music means for young people who are disadvantaged.

Leicester College music.


Housing Policy 3

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke

Part 3

Housing, employment and transport: why we need joined-up policies

In the previous part of this series, I looked at bricks and other kinds of building materials, and asked if there can be viable alternatives to traditional construction materials. I considered how building design might change to take account of the rise of new materials. I move on, now,  to discuss the kind of policies that are increasingly playing a part in the supply of accommodation.
It is often said that Britain has a housing crisis. The Government hopes to supply a million new homes by 2020 [Guardian, September 2015]. But, over the past four years only 47% of the amount needed in England have been built [BBC news, September 2015]. It is the scale of the housing shortage that leads people to talk of a crisis. The National Housing Federation was quoted as saying that about 245,000 new homes were needed each year in England. Gill Payne, director of policy and external affairs, said: “In some areas, there is a drastic shortage causing prices to soar, putting homes out of the reach of many people” [BBC, September 2015] The BBC’s Inside Out programme on housing, drew attention to the shortfall in housing supply as matched against housing need between 2011 and 2014. The crash of 2008 is often blamed for this shortfall but it is not the only factor. According to the Inside Out programme ‘critics say the change has also made it easier for “inappropriate and unwanted” developments to progress.’ Politicians have criticised the National Planning Policy Framework of 2012, claiming that the said changes to the NPPF were required to ensure “the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension” with “due emphasis on the natural environment”. Clive Betts is quoted as saying “Councils must do more to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by moving quickly to get an adopted local plan in place.” Even The National Trust said the MPs’ report was another indication the NPPF had allowed “streetwise developers” to ignore the wishes of communities [BBC, 2014].
Housing is a minefield of conflicting policies and opinions. In order to navigate a path through this confusion, I set out my agenda of key policy issues: I begin by discussing the need for affordable housing before explaining why I think housing policy is the key to everything. I then look at the issue of renting before considering three interconnected policy areas – housing, employment, unemployment (economic status) and transport. I then discuss how better use can be made of existing housing stock. This agenda is about the need for joined-up policies.

The need for affordable homes

Are people ready to move away from standardisation and established traditions? If the media is to be believed, the average ‘Jess and Joe’ want to get married and start a family and as part of this, they want to own a home of their own. But does ‘Mr & Mrs Average’ want to live only in the traditional house? Through the medium of television, we have seen people who have abandoned the traditional notion of the house and built themselves a home from materials you would not find on the average housing estate – such as blocks of straw. Others have done away with the conventional idea of a slate roof and covered their structures with earth and grass.

Many recent television programmes have shown people restoring old buildings, converting them into family homes often by doing the work themselves. Flat roofs have not been popular but the development of new materials has now made them much more viable. The house-building industry is still providing large quantities of structures based on the traditional idea of two stories with individuals rooms for different purposes: lounge, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. House designers have not moved on in their concept of what constitutes the kind of houses that people want to live in; but then, neither have house-buyers.

In post-war Britain there was a trend to build ‘pre-fabs’ – prefabricated houses built in bits in factories and then assembled on site. Prefabs were cheap, cheerful and provided a quick fix to the shortage of housing after the blitz. The decades of the 1940s through to the 1960s brought us the baby boom and, as those generations grew into adulthood, demand for housing increased. Recently, the lack of access to mortgages, following the financial crash of 2008, has led to an increase in rented properties. Couples and new families, not wanting to be stuck at home with their mums and dads, are going out to find rented accommodation, often because this is the only option open to them. In the urban areas this is fairly easy but in the countryside, it is much more of a problem. House-prices in rural areas are very widely beyond the reach of workers in villages and rural areas.

Today, the baby boomers of the 60s are down-sizing. Having brought up their families, couples find themselves living in houses that are bigger than they need. Couples, aged 60 and over, are moving into smaller properties. Whilst this should be releasing houses for occupation by younger people, the problem is that house prices have increased and the mortgages needed to buy these properties are hard to come by. Recent predictions show that ‘house prices are set to increase by more than previously expected in 2015. The CEBR now expects the price of the average home in the UK to rise by 4.7% – up from its March forecast of 1.5% growth. A chronic lack of properties being put up for sale has pushed up prices in recent months and is one of the reasons behind the upward revision to the forecast’ [Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2015].

The British are wedded to the idea of the single occupancy house as the basis for family life, unlike our continental neighbours, in Europe, for whom the apartment block is the standard form of housing. Single-occupancy houses are more expensive to build and require a lot more land, than is the case for multi-level apartments. House-builders and government policy makers see no need to attempt to change the public’s demands for the typical family unit; they are comfortable with the belief that families know what they want and there is no need to change anything. Political policy is wedded to freedom of choice and not much given to trying to change such choice. Politicians have made a big thing about new-build [Hope, 2016]. To them, housing supply is all about building new houses; it is hardly ever seen as being about the better use of existing housing stock. In order to get supply anywhere near the level of demand for houses, in England today, the solutions are always stated as being about building new homes. Only the more radical politicians give credence to the idea that the supply of housing might also include a wider set of options.
Our notion of affordability, in housing is important but it is strangled by our servitude to traditional ideas – more so now than it was in the previous century. If people really do want affordable housing, I would argue, then they should change their stereotypical ideas about what constitutes a home and the materials used in house-building. In any case ‘affordability’ is a relative concept; it is not just about the price at which houses are offered for sale – it is also about how much money people have to pay for them. Can people afford to buy new houses?

Well, certainly not in London. House prices vary considerably around the UK (as do incomes) and what is affordable in one region might well be too expensive in another. People cannot easily move from a high-price area to one where houses are cheaper, any more then they can easily chase after higher paid jobs in other parts of the country.  Newly elected Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has a policy on housing and in it he begins by saying ‘A secure home is the foundation of a happy life and decent housing for all is the foundation of the good society. For too many people their housing is not a source of security, but a cause for anxiety’ [Corbyn, 2015]. I pick this out, not because I am a fan of this politician, but because he has a neat way of saying things that I too happen to believe, such as, the above quotation. I go some of the way with him but when I read ‘The housing crisis cannot just be solved by building more homes, although this is a major issue that needs to be tackled. It is more complex than that: to tackle the housing crisis we also need to address problems of inequality, regional disparities of income and wealth, taxation policy, the labour market, our social security system and planning regulations’ I begin to part company with him. As I argue in this section, there is a need for joined-up policies but it is a matter for debate just how many policies need to be joined up to make a housing position that is credible and effective. It will take many decades to make an impact on inequality and disparities in wealth and income. These issues referred to by Corbyn are large-scale issues that are important but housing is something that people need today and demands immediate actions that cannot wait for a fairer society to develop. Corbyn goes on to set out a raft of practical measures that will, in his view, solve the housing crisis to which he refers. The challenge that confronts policy makers in housing is which policies can, and should, be joined together to create an effective approach (or strategy) to housing supply. Is it some of these issues that I now go on to discuss.

Housing is the key to everything

If you do not have a home, you cannot get a job. If you do not have a suitable home, you might find it difficult to marry and start a family. Most people who are homeless are also likely to be unemployed. It’s not just a question of being homeless. Often the problem is more about inappropriate housing and unsuitable accommodation and these can be pivoted on poor employment. Energy poverty rides on the back of inappropriate housing; people who live in accommodation that is not suitable are likely to suffer from high energy costs, which will lead either to inadequate heating or people failing to feed themselves properly, in order to keep up with the demands of energy suppliers. Poorly built houses are also likely to suffer from damp, drafts and lack of insulation. This is more likely to be typical of ageing housing stock. Modern housing has to conform to higher standards of building regulations.
Policy requires us to look at housing and employment in one single package; the two things are closely inter-related and you cannot deal with one without, at the same time, addressing the other. I will argue, below, that government policy makers are failing to do this. A population that achieves optimal levels of employment requires optimal levels of housing; that is my position but I fail to see this reflected in the manifestos of political parties or in the policies being issued by the government. Joined-up policies are not characteristic of today’s breed of politicians. This goes some way to explaining why the basis for home ownership or occupation is changing so much. When David Cameron said that he wanted to sweep away planning rules requiring the construction of affordable homes, in favour of first time buyers, did he stop to think what the employment requirements would be for that? The kind of jobs that would be needed to support loans for first-time buyers was not mentioned in his speech to the 2015 Conservative conference. It is pointless planning to build thousands of starter homes for a market that does not have the employment prospects needed for sustainable access to these markets. Coming up with a credible package would need alignments between employment and wages, mortgage lending and construction incentives. Meeting housing need targets does not depend on whether it is about buying or renting or any other form of tenure; it is all about how the employment economy either enables or hinders access to the finances needed for any kind of accommodation. We can only get to grips with the housing crisis once we have locked access to housing into access to jobs and have synchronised both of them. Part of this process involves working with income sectors, seeing how lower-income or middle-income families will fare as homes and jobs are brought together.

Renting a home

It is said that we need 250,000 new homes if we are to keep up with housing demand, [de Castella, 2015]. In that context what do we mean by ‘new?’ Do we mean new build or do we mean more supply of housing stock of all kinds. Around four million people are now renting their homes [Owen, 2014]. In many continental countries, renting is the standard tenancy. Now that house-ownership is so difficult to achieve in England, renting looks like it will become the most frequent approach to securing accommodation. For policy makers, the key issue is one of renting not being as secure, for tenants, as it ought to be.

New residential tenancies had increased 2.5% in the first month of 2015; ‘The figures show the highest growth occurring in the East Midlands, Scotland and East Anglia with rents rising 6.2%, 5.7% and 5% respectively.’ Furthermore, ‘the average rent in the UK is now £889, compared to £867 at the end of 2014, and £799 in January 2014’ [Property Wire, 2015]. This is still more than the equivalent monthly mortgage repayment. Lewis Dean said that ‘rental prices of homes in England and Wales have grown more than house prices for the first time in two years. Rents across England and Wales reached a new record high at £789 in June, 1.4% higher than the £778 recorded in May and up 5.6% since June 2014. The hike means last month was the first since July 2013 where rents rose more quickly than house prices for comparable properties, with this annual rate of house price growth standing at 4.5% over the 12 months ending June 2015.’ [Dean, 2015] Which is rather startling, given that economists are predicting that house prices will rise dramatically in the years ahead.

Since the crash of 2008, availability of residential mortgages has declined; the effect of this is that young people have either continued to live with their parents or have moved into rented accommodation. Added to this, a substantial number of older people have left large family homes and transferred to the rented sector. Renting a house or flat was no longer the preserve of students and people living in an area for a short while. A shortage of new housing has also fuelled this trend. The demand for rented accommodation has grown and this has led to an increase in prices, so much so, that the price of renting has increased faster than house prices. What dogs prospective renters is the requirement to provide a deposit. The majority of rents demand that a tenant must pay a deposit to cover fixtures and fittings. On top of this deposit (which is supposed to be refundable at the end of the tenancy) monthly rents must be paid in advance. It is common for landlords to ask for one months rent in advance. The law requires deposits to be lodged with a tenancy deposit scheme that is backed by the government [Government website, 2015].

If monthly rental payments are higher than for equivalent mortgage repayments, the impact on disposable income can be seen straight away. Disposable income for a large section of the population has been decreasing as accommodation overheads have gone up, both for rents, mortgage repayments and inflated energy costs. This has an impact on the economy as a whole; spending on retail products is lower than it might be, dampening demand and strangling the purchase of goods and services.
Following the general election of 2015, lending for housing purchase increased by nearly thirty percent. That sounds like good news, but the picture is far from optimistic. After declining for a long time, applications for mortgages have picked up. According to the Valuations Office Agency, ‘the median rent recorded between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015 in England was £600’ [Valuations Office Agency, 2015]; still more than the median mortgage repayment.

Predictions of the trends in renting suggest that it will continue to rise and to be a major method of securing accommodation for the foreseeable future. The main problem with this is that renting, in this country, is far from secure. The legal rights of tenants who rent their housing is complicated. If renting is to become the norm for a large sector of the housing market, something needs to be done about security of tenure. Linsey Hanley has argued that ‘There is nothing wrong with long-term renting per se: it’s the norm in most European countries, where the law tends to favour tenants. And so it should: a tenant’s need for secure shelter takes moral precedence over a landlord’s right to safeguard his income’ [Hanley, 2015]. This gets to the nub of the renting issue – that if the Government is to protect housing consumers then it must provide them with security of tenure and sort out the complex mess of legal rights that thwarts the ability of renters to stay in their homes.

As the Civitas report acknowledged, there are a lot of people who are denied access to other housing options, who are dependent on renting but their security of tenure is inadequate, under current law, and something needs to be done about this. The Civitas report argued that ‘A new regulatory framework should be considered that would curb future rent growth and improve security for tenants. This should include indefinite tenancies within which rents (freely negotiated at the outset between landlord and tenant) would only be allowed to rise in line with a measure of inflation’ [Civitas 2015].
The rented sector of housing is not just about private individuals renting out properties; in many large cities apartment blocks are owned by property developers and speculators, drawn into this area of investment by the strong demand for rents and the profits that can be achieved from renting. The tenants rent through local agents and have no relationship with these remote absentee landlords – most of which are anonymous companies often located far away from the properties they control. In the view of the Civitas report ‘In order to encourage investment in new housing, new-build properties would be exempt from this regulation, but landlords would be encouraged to enter voluntary longer-term arrangements with tenants where this is mutually attractive. Institutional investors might be particularly receptive to such a framework’ [Civitas 2015].

The problem facing law-makers, and those who drive political policy, is that they have to achieve a balance between security of tenure for residents and enabling investment in the rented sector for landlords. Moving the balance of rights and responsibilities too far in favour of tenants could deter landlords from bringing new properties into the market or even invite them to move their investments away from housing to other sources of profit. Security of tenure (or lack of it) can be a problem for those who cannot afford to buy houses; in many cases people have no other choice than to rent accommodation simply because they do not have the funds for a deposit on a house or cannot secure a suitable loan for the purchase. The terms and conditions of rented tenancies are often set to deal with problems, such as people who fail to pay their rent or move out without giving adequate notice. In my view, this is a mistake and the terms of rental agreements should address the basic principles of letting to responsible customers and leave it up to the law to sort out situations that go wrong. Giving tenants security is important because flats and houses are not just property – they are homes. Having a secure home is important to people’s health and wellbeing. It is part of a family’s (or individual’s) general security and getting the balance right should be the goal of both landlords and government policy and legislation.
This issue is brought into focus by the measure, announced by The Chancellor, in his summer budget (of 2015), that taxation benefits on buy to let are to be changed. The aim of the measure was to make taxation fairer for individual residential home owners. George Osborne said that his aim was to create a more level playing field between those buying a home to let and those who are buying a place to live in. Be that as it may, analysts and commentators are saying that the disadvantages of this measure will outweigh any benefits that it might confer; some maintain that the effect of the measure will be to raise rental levels and reduce the supply of accommodation. I examine the impact of the measure in my blog [ibid]. The Chancellor had added three cent to stamp duty on buy to let and second homes. This does not apply to properties of up to £40,000 in value. Landlords also face higher taxes on their rental income [This is money, 12th January 2016].

De-regulation of the housing market damages the long-term prospects for tenants and this can have a knock-on effect on the economy generally. Policy makers need to grapple with the relationship between jobs and homes and ensure that people have access to accommodation that offers them security of tenure. Lenders, such as banks and credit companies, do not look favourably on people with multiple addresses, who have moved house many times. They prefer clients who have lived at their current address for four years or more – not always easy to achieve when security of tenure is inadequate. Renters tend to be more mobile than house holders and can clock up several addresses in a relatively short period of time (staying put in one place for an average of 3.5 years.) Even if we discount students (who rent homes whilst they are studying and then move on when they get a job elsewhere) renters move more frequently than house-owners.

Government policy-makers are faced with a variety of tenures; when it comes to forging policy to do with security of tenure, they have to fit it into social housing, council housing, some other less common forms of tenure, as well as the private rented sector. Such policies are subject to moral and ethnic debates that focus on the rights of individuals to security; there is nothing wrong with that but governments are more likely to be concerned with the financial and commercial consequences of the law. Even so, individuals are worried about their security rather than the profitability of property speculation.

For economists there are several issues in all this. The percentage of income that goes into providing somewhere to live (and energy to run it) is a factor determining the outcome of disposable income. The national economy relies on strong consumer demand for products, food and domestic retail consumption. Increasing housing costs are not good for the economy as whole. The strength of the economy has always seen employment rates as being a key factor. Economists are beginning to realise that the cost of housing is a key factor in determining the strength of consumer demand. Housing costs are nearly always the biggest single expense for families and individuals and rising accommodation costs hold down consumer demand for goods and services in the domestic sector. This is true both for mortgages and rents and for energy costs. Building a strong economy involves joining up policies that affect employment, housing and transport.

Housing and employment

Most people in this country need two things: somewhere to live and a job to pay for it. There is a reciprocal relationship between housing and employment. People need a home in order to get and hold down a job; people need jobs in order to be able to fund a home and meet their energy bills. People are locked into this ‘catch22’ cycle of needing two things at once. This works well when times are good but when people lose their job or their homes are put in jeopardy, they find themselves in trouble.

If we are to have policies that work, we must be able to make housing and employment work together in a way that reinforces them both. So, how does the housing market relate to employment? What proportion of the labour market can afford housing?

What people are being paid relates directly to the type of housing they can access. Those with well-paid jobs, that have long-term prospects, will be able to attract mortgages. Mortgage providers are less keen to fund those whose jobs are short-term or occasional – such as those on zero hours contracts. It is not always the level of pay that gives access to mortgages – it is more to do with the long-term prospects for continued employment that will fund a mortgage over its term (typically 25 years.) People who are on zero hour contracts are not good prospects for mortgage providers. Precarious employment arrangements are not good for home-ownership and access to mortgages and leases.

Despite the fact that the UK has a record level of employment – the best since 1971 – home ownership is as low as it was in the 1970s. Can government policies be synchronised so that there is both full employment and a strong supply of housing? Traditional home owners (in terms of their employment status) are becoming a smaller proportion of the labour market. It would be wrong however for policy makers to assume that they need only provide good employment to sort out home ownership and accommodation. You cannot buy security of tenure in the rented sector if it does not exist. You cannot get a mortgage if your income and job prospects are inadequate.

People who have to survive on precarious jobs are finding it more and more difficult to gain access to suitable housing. The Labour Party’s pre-election headlines (of 2015) placed emphasis on increasing the supply of new build housing; but if they do not have synchronised policies for employment, too few people who will be able to buy into that housing and the policy will fail. What people need, to access new-build housing, are jobs that offer long term stability and a predictable income. New build houses are more difficult to secure than rented properties or other forms of accommodation tenure. In some respects new building housing is not the answer – it is actually just part of the problem.

Around 15% of the labour force is now self-employed. There has been a huge increase in people gaining their primary income from a small business. ‘Nowadays, although it is not impossible for someone who is self-employed to secure a mortgage, it can certainly be a difficult process because lenders are far less willing to take what they see as a risk on those with a ‘non-standard’ income’, claims one website [Thisismoney, 2015]. Lenders want to see a history of business success and to be convinced that this will continue over the life of the loan. That immediately places people into age categories. With our ageing population, more and more older people are economically inactive and securing the best (most secure) accommodation is very difficult for people who do not have a secure income. Pensioners might be able to show that their income is secure but, if they are over 55, they will still find it difficult to get mortgages. Lenders are reluctant to provide housing-related loans over short periods.

In 1971, half the population was renting and the other half owned their homes. The number of people in work is now at its highest level since 1971. What proportion of employed people can afford access to housing? We hear a lot about the difficulties that people have in securing a mortgage, especially for those aged 20 to 25. These might be people who are in work but the kind of earnings they have, does not always give them access to housing. If we now have record numbers of people in housing, why are so many not able to get a mortgage or cannot afford to rent suitable homes?

Guy Standing has written about The Precariat, a social class formed by people suffering from ‘precarity’, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security [Standing, 2011]. Many of these are people whose income is precariously based on things like zero-hours contracts. These are casual workers who lack a long-term reliable income, the kind of income which would allow them to secure permanent housing. If your job cannot be relied on to provide you with enough money over a long enough period of time, then you are likely to have difficulties in accessing the kind of housing you desire. Housing requires permanent employment, a stable income over a long period and a level of income that will convince mortgage-providers and people who lease or rent apartments that you are a reasonably safe bet. Zero-hours contracts might offer a handy fix for some people, for some of the time, but in the long term they create disadvantage in terms of housing.

With the growth in unreliable employment and more risky self employment, gaining access to secure accommodation is presenting increasing difficulties. If the retirement age is increased beyond its current levels, this will also have a knock-on effect on housing. The Government’s commitment to increasing the level of the national wage, it is said, will result in large numbers of small businesses failing, including those that are self employed and micro-enterprises [Inman, 2015] That bodes badly for the housing market; mortgage defaults will increase dramatically and the overall level of personal debt will soar. The success of wage increases will be offset by the unintended consequences of failure to meet housing costs. We all thought that the national wage was a good thing; perhaps now we can see its unintended consequences we will have to think again.

Housing and unemployment

Older people are caught in traps with their existing mortgages and their inability to secure loans to fund a settled and secure old age. Older people are in the best position if they have equity locked up in an existing property that they own. However, many wish to pass on their homes to their children, who might find it either difficult or impossible to obtain a mortgage of their own. Where someone has substantial savings, they can offer a suitable level of deposit to secure a mortgage or a lease. Those aged over 60 are in particular trouble because they cannot provide the appropriate length of time needed to pay back a loan. ‘With less time to make the repayments than someone twenty or thirty years younger, the lender will need to know that you will have a sufficient income in retirement to be able to make the repayments and cover the term of the mortgage’ [Sosmart, 2015]. There is evidence that a variety of brokers are now setting out to cater for borrowers aged 55 or over, who do not wish to re-mortgage their existing properties [Eccles 2014] ‘Around 350,000 over 65s still have a home loan according to the Office for National Statistics – and over the next decade the Financial Conduct Authority says 40,000 retired people a year will see deals come to an end so they will have to re-mortgage or repay any remaining debt. With the average mortgage in retirement worth around £30,000 and some older people determined to trade up, not down, the challenges for borrowers are intense’ explains one website [Thisismoney 2015.] Older borrowers, aged 60 or more, find it difficult to secure loans for housing but it is not impossible, however difficult it might be. The additional problem they face is that their initial repayments might be higher than would the case with younger people, because older people have less time to clear the debt. Those aged 65 might be lucky enough to borrow over a 15 or 20 year term. There are few lenders willing to deal with people who are at or have passed retirement age. If the age of retirement is to go up, there will have to be changes to the way that funds are lent for house purchases or leases. This type of borrowing will be sensitive to the government’s long-term plans for state pensions. Even those with private pensions are by no means safe, given the uncertain future of their funds. Raising the retirement age purely for employment reasons will have unintended consequences for housing and hence the need for joined-up policies. Measures such as the national wage and raising of the retirement age need to followed through to see what will be their likely consequences for housing and consumer demand. These could prove to be deflationary measures.

Developing policy concerned with the housing needs of older people is not easy. For one thing, life-expectancy and health risks change, the older the age of the person. Where older people have an existing property, which they own or on which there is an outstanding debt, the options are there, however daunting they might be. But older people with no existing property ownership are in a dire position. Unless their circumstances can be catered for we will see the return of a level of poverty and homelessness in our ageing population that has not been witnessed since Victorian times.

Employment, these days, is far more varied than it ever has been. Gone is the age of the life-time, permanent career. Getting a secure, full-time job with a good salary is increasingly difficult and the labour market is now geared to younger people; employment for people over 50 is a real challenge. Housing choices are dependent on income and if you can’t find paid work and self employment is not an option, then you might be in a precarious position. Jobs might well be available elsewhere but if you cannot afford to move to access those jobs, then you are stuck. Large numbers of people are commuting long distances in order to get jobs not available in their home localities. Older people find it difficult to move because they are tied to the localities in which their dependants live and the families on who they are dependent. Economic migration within the UK is not an easy option for those aged 60 and over.

Employment and transport

Employment is often dependent on transport. Some policy markers have added transport into the housing/employment equation. Some have gone on to put this into a regional context. We can look at England as a whole but when you regionalise the equation, there are areas of the country that need special attention. Some local authorities have developed policies that address the issue of the supply of land as being the key to dealing with meeting housing needs. Policy-making therefore has to balance two sets of supplies: jobs and homes. This approach also needs to consider travel to work areas – the ability of people with jobs to travel to work, to areas away from their homes. This is where transport comes in – if the supply of transport lags behind the supply of housing and the availability of jobs (within a travel-to-work area) then people are going find it difficult to get housing within a reasonable distance of where they want to work. The choice of where to live, for the majority of families, dictates where their work places can be. They have to take into account their relatives (particularly dependants and those on whom they depend) and access to schools and heath care, if they have specific needs in that respect.

Formulating housing policy is a non-starter if not related to employment and education and, I would argue, transport. Joined up policies are the most likely to be credible and effective because they pull together these variables that all depend on each other. If we want our housing policy to succeed we have to make sure that the labour market has a sufficient proportion of employed people who have the kind of income that is required for stable home ownership (whether via mortgages, leases or tenancies.) The more people whose jobs fall into the short-term, precarious, end of the labour market, the more difficult it is going to be to have a robust housing policy. Allowing employers to determine the market for jobs is bad for the economy; it is free-market-ism of the worst kind. Allowing more and more employers to indulge in short-term and zero-hours contracts is also harmful for the economy as a whole. Developing key policies in isolation from each other is a practice that cannot join up jobs, homes, education and transport and for that reason it does the country no good at all. Policies that join up employment, transport and housing supply and more likely to result in a strong economy, than those that are developed piecemeal.

I will now look at some of the issues that affect the supply of housing stock, how we can make better use of land and the possible options for addressing the short-fall in housing supply.


Contents of the entire work

Further reading

Part 1 of this series: Policy, practice and history

Part 2: Bricks and mortar

Breakfast At Tiffanys

Truman Capote’s
Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Adapted by Richard Greenberg
at Curve, Leicester

by Keith Jobey

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
3rd to 12th March 2016
Based on the novel by Truman Capote
Adaptor Richard Greenberg
Director Nikolai Foster
Designer Matthew Wright
Music Grant Olding

Our Rating: ***

Pixie Lott in rehearsals for Breakfast at Tiffanys. Photo: Sean Ebsworth-Barnes.
Pixie Lott in rehearsals for Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Photo: Sean Ebsworth-Barnes.

You’ve no doubt spotted the posters about town over the past few months. Sitting in the Exchange,  across the road from Curve,  we did. And I have to admit, Pixie Lott taking the lead role had an influence on deciding to buy tickets for it. Were we a bit hasty making our decision? After all, she’s a singer not an actress isn’t she?

This is an important production for Curve. A European premiere that is opening in Leicester before going on tour nationally. It concludes at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West end. The first time a Made At Curve production to do so. A fact they’re quite rightly proud of.

Rumour has it that this theatre production follows the book more closely than the movie chose to. The brochure tells us that this is a more ‘faithful adaptation, which investigates themes of identity, sexuality, love and loss… while charting this extraordinary story of two young people finding their way in a rapidly changing world’.

The movie is legendary, Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar nominated role helping cement it’s place in Hollywood history. Not that I’ve seen it, so I’m watching the production without any preconceptions. I don’t even know the gist of the story. In fact I’m more aware of the single by Deep Blue Something of the same name, which my wife keeps reminding me will not feature in the show no matter how many times I sing its chorus.

It’s a full house for the Saturday matinee, and also my first time in the main theatre of Curve. I’m impressed. It’s a really nice theatre. And it’s great to see it thrive like it is. The stage has an art deco feel to it, reflecting the architecture seen in New York City from the 1940s. Think the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center… and obviously Tiffany & Co.

As mentioned earlier the lead role of Holly Golightly is taken by Pixie Lott. She is of course famous for her music, having topped both the singles and album charts in the UK. Couple that with TV appearances on X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and you have a well-known name. This, however, is her stage debut. A bit risky perhaps for such a key role in a performance? Especially a role that’s inevitably going to be compared to Audrey Hepburn. So how did she do? Well she can certainly sing, her rendition of Moon River far surpasses my attempts at the Deep Blue Something single. So no question whatsoever on that count. And I’m pleased to say she can act too. She seemed to relish the role and performed with great gusto. I did wonder about the accent at times, it seemed forced, but perhaps that intentional, after all, Holly is never really the woman you think she is.

Fred (played by Matt Barber) is particularly impressive as the other main character alongside Holly. He holds the story together, interspacing his dialogue with a narrative that breaks the fourth wall, bringing the audience in. It is his tale we hear and he tells it brilliantly. It’s a slightly seedy tale, a one of the underbelly of the high class society of New York during World War II. But that’s all I’ll say.

I have to say I was engrossed by the time the lights went out and the show closed. There was some discussion about whether there should have been more songs, but it is not billed as a musical, more of a play with songs included. So that’s mighty fine with me.

Keith Jobey writes for Music in Leicester magazine.

Background notes

Curve announced the full cast for the show that stars Pixie Lott.
The full cast was announced for the 2016 UK and Ireland Tour and the West End limited season of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted by Richard Greenberg and directed by Nikolai Foster.
Matt Barber (Atticus Aldridge in Downton Abbey) will play Fred and Victor McGuire (the sit-coms Trollied and Bread) will play Joe Bell. They will be joined by Robert Calvert as Doc, Naomi Cranston as Mag, Charlie De Melo as José, Tim Frances as Rusty Trawler/Editor at 21, Andrew Joshi as Yunioshi, Melanie La Barrie as Mme Spanella, and Sevan Stephan as OJ Berman/Dr Goldman, with Katy Allen and Andy Watkins.
As previously announced, Pixie Lott will star as Holly Golightly for the UK and Ireland Tour, from 3 March to 30 April and 13 to 25 June, and at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from 30 June to 17 September.
Truman Capote’s classic novella has been adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning Finalist and Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain), and contains memorable songs from the era as well as original music by Grant Olding (One Man, Two Guvnors, RSC’s Don Quixote).
Based on Truman Capote’s beloved masterwork, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is set in New York in 1943. Fred, a young writer from Louisiana, meets Holly Golightly, a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl. Everyone falls in love with Holly – including Fred. However Fred is poor, and Holly’s other suitors include a playboy millionaire and the future president of Brazil. As war rages on in Europe, Holly begins to fall in love with Fred – just as her past catches up with her.

Artistic Director of Curve, Nikolai Foster said, “It’s a testament to the beauty of Capote’s imagination, the extraordinary characters he created and Greenberg’s faithful adaptation, that alongside Pixie and Matt, we have assembled such an accomplished company of actors to bring this dazzling play to life. We are thrilled to welcome the company to Curve and our audiences in Leicester and on tour in the UK. Every week of 2016 will see a Curve production on a UK stage and we are thrilled Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be part of this commitment to sharing work that has been made at Curve.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be directed by Nikolai Foster, the Artistic Director of Curve, with production design by Matthew Wright, lighting design by Ben Cracknell, sound design by Mic Pool and wig design by Campbell Young.
Nikolai Foster is Artistic Director at Curve. Recent productions include Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Shakespeare’s Richard III (all Curve), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (West Yorkshire Playhouse), the 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing (Curve and Nottingham Playhouse), Calamity Jane (Watermill Theatre, Newbury & UK tour) and a major new production of the Broadway musical Annie (West Yorkshire Playhouse & UK tour).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s will begin performances at the Curve, Leicester on 3 March 2016, before embarking on a UK & Ireland Tour. There will be a 12-week season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End from 30 June to 17 September 2016.
Visit the website for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

See also:

Music from the Schools.

An Inspector Calls.

Outings (play review).

An Inspector Calls Review

17th March 2016

Review: An Inspector calls

Trevor Locke was at Curve to see J B Priestley’s play

Curve Theatre, 17th March to 23rd March
Our rating: ****

A gripping drama with a twist in the tale and a surprise ending

What we see on stage is a bewildering time warp of 1940s northern town realism somehow morphed into a 1912 drawing room drama. At one point towards the end of the play (which was performed at Curve in one sitting) the family mansion appears to be blitzed in a WWII air raid only to be magically restored to its former state a little later. The destruction of the house reflects and echoes that of the family who live in it as their lives are torn apart by the revelations blitzed out of them by the Inspector. The ruination of the house depicts the discrediting of the old social and political order. The family members are exposed as being complicit in the suicide of a destitute young woman who they, at first, deny all knowledge of until the Inspector cunningly brings out the truth – that the whole family has been responsible for the poor wretch’s demise, in one way or another.

An Inspector Calls Tour 2015. Photo by Mark Douet.
An Inspector Calls Tour 2015. Photo by Mark Douet.

Priestley is known for a lot of things: novelist, playwright, social commentator and essayist, broadcaster – his prodigious output was impressive. His left wing political views were credited with supporting the rise of the welfare state. A Yorkshireman, he served in the army in WW1 before attending Cambridge for his education. Priestley’s career took off with the publication of The Good Companions in 1929. An Inspector Calls came in 1945. The play was first performed in Russia and made into a film in 1954. Its revival by the National Theatre in 1992 secured its place in twentieth century theatrical history.

An Inspector Calls has been lauded as Priestley’s most famous and acclaimed play. It’s stark socialist stance led it to fall into disrepute during the UK’s more right-wing eras; it’s return today, in a more politically diverse climate, is a recognition of its wide appeal as theatre and its constant inclusion in school curricula and examination papers. It’s a highly engaging piece of drama with a gripping plot that has a twist and a surprise ending. It that respect it scores highly with the drama-going public.

The play is set in 1912 and takes place over the course of one day but the play within the play is set in World War 2. Somehow, in Daldry’s production, the two time periods provide contrasting lenses through which to view the plot. Priestley does not hold back from giving us a speech about the evils of capitalism and the moral failures of middle class society. At one point the stage lights go out and hard, monochromatic lighting puts the stage into stark relief as the Inspector harangues the audience about the importance of social responsibility. Factory owner Arthur Birling is portrayed as an arch capitalist, as at home in the Edwardian era as he is in the contemporary world where individuality is lauded over community values and the needs of the poor can easily be disregarded in the pursuit of individualism.

Priestly does not come across (at least in this play) as a Marxist-Leninist, but as a benign Wilsonian neo-socialist. He probably would not have looked out of place in the Blair government. Some of what he uses Arthur Birling for is to make us realise that the Victorian admiration for self-embetterment and the every-man-for-himself mind-set is just what Thatcherism (so to speak) wanted us to believe. I am not knocking the play; its canter across the moral high ground is, after all, what we are used to in a lot of Shakespeare.

Daldry’s production has a rather peculiar set, designed by Ian MacNeil. Strange sets have become familiar at Curve in recent times. Most of the play takes place in a cobbled street above which is the elegant family mansion of the Birlings, wealthy and influential citizens of Brumley (a fictitious northern industrial town.) At the start of the play we find the family at home, celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling. Members of the family are heard (and occasionally glimpsed) enjoying themselves in the parlour of the house, occasionally coming out on to the balcony to speak to people below them in the street. The walls of the house then open out like those of a doll’s house to reveal the grand interior. It is certainly a clever piece of stage design but all feels a bit surreal.

The actors in tonight’s show delivered creditable performances. Liam Brennan’s portrayal of Inspector Goole was sharp and coherent. Geoffrey Leesley’s Arthur Birling was very credible and full of character. The Sybil Birling portrayed by Caroline Wildi was viperous and acerbic when Sybil is put under pressure, although at other times she appeared rather cardboard. I particularly liked Matthew Douglas’s portrayal of Gerald Croft (somewhat Downton Abbey, in a good way.) Stephen Warbeck’s incidental music was very Hitchcock.

Spoiler alert. If you do not want to know the ending, stop here.

After experiencing the gradual disintegration of the Birling family, both their reputation, status and their home, the family members gather to take stock of what had just happened to them. They forensically pick over the evidence of the evening and conclude that it might all have been a hoax. Their misgivings are confirmed when they phone the Chief Constable and are told that there is no Inspector Goole on the force. A call to the hospital reveals that no young woman died there earlier in the day. They fall about laughing as though they had all been the victim of a practical joke. That is the twist. Then comes the surprise. Right at the end, a phone call from the police informs them that a (real) police inspector is on his way to see them to investigate the death (that evening) of a young woman who had swallowed disinfectant to kill herself. The plausible whodunnit suddenly becomes something else: a mystery, a supernatural ghost story – I don’t know. It was no less shocking.

An Inspector Calls Tour by J.B. Priestley, presented by P W Productions in association with A I C Tour (2015), The National Theatre’s award-winning production.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Designer: Ian MacNeil
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Associate Director: Julian Webber
Liam Brennan
Caroline Wildi
Geoff Leesley
Matthew Douglas
Katherine Jack
Hamish Riddle
Diana Payne-Myers

See also:

Outings (review)

Lord of the Flies (review)

King Charles III (review)

Housing Policy 2

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke

Part 2

Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

If you live in the United Kingdom, you are sure to have seen house bricks. You might live in a house that is made from them. But, have you ever stopped to think what bricks are made of? Most people in this country will have picked up and held a house brick at some point in their lives. Have you ever thought to ask – have bricks always been the same as this? We are all familiar with bricks – their size, shape, colour, texture and feel. But have you ever wondered whether they will always be the same, in the future, as they are now? The British have a characteristic love of brick-built houses, compared to say the wooden structures lived in by many Europeans and the residents of North America. It was not always true, however, in previous periods of history when in inhabitants of the British Isles lived in structures made of sticks and mud, blocks of stone or even holes in the ground in some cases.
If you think that a brick is a brick – you might be surprised to know just how varied they are. The common house brick is a solid block, usually 215 × 102.5 × 65 mm (about 8  5/8 × 4 1/8 × 2 5/8 inches). Some bricks are solid, others have 10 holes in them to decrease their weight; some are made in different sizes and and come in a variety of colours. Most are newly made but there is a big market for reclaimed bricks. I am referring to British bricks because the size of bricks varies from one country to another. Bricks are made from a mixture clay and sand that has been heated in a kiln, to harden it and make it strong. Although most bricks are coloured red (because they are made from clays that contain iron) many have other colours, having been made from clays to which additional materials have been added, such as chalk.
At the present time the production of bricks in 2014 -15 is expected to reach a value of £889.2 million [Allen, 2014]. Standard clay bricks that is. It is said that the recession of 2008 resulted in a shortage of bricks [Szu Ping Chan, 2015]. We can see that the construction industry went into sharp decline from 2008 onwards, not recovering until late 2009/10. This was due largely to the lack of finance for both building and the purchasing of new homes as the credit crunch bit into the availability of finance. It was not until 2014 that house building recovered to its pre-crash levels. We cannot attribute the slump in house building solely to shortages of materials (or the finance required to obtain them); the depressed economy also led to a shortage of skilled labour, as companies laid off construction workers.
How old is the brick? It’s an interesting question. Bricks have been around for a very long time. They are thought to have been used for six thousand years, being found in the city of Babylon for example. The ancient Egyptians made bricks from dried mud, some of which have survived to the present day. In China, millions of workers had to make tens of millions of bricks for the construction of the Great Wall. In the British Isles, the Romans made bricks, firing them in kilns close to the buildings they were constructing. Bricks were rarely used in the UK before the fourteenth century. Flemish refugees brought brick-making to East Anglia; in the fifteenth century, many craftsmen from Holland and Belgium settled in the UK. After the great fire of London in 1666, people began to build houses with brick walls to replace the wooden ones that were susceptible to fire. The Tudors were keen on building with bricks and fine examples of Elizabethan brick-built houses are still standing today. Henry VIII took over Wolsey’s home at Hampton Court Palace, in 1528. Much of Hampton Court is still standing today and visitors can see straight away that most of the facades are made from bricks, rather than stone blocks that would have been noticeable in many structures since Norman times. Between 1485 and 1603, brick-making and brick-laying emerged as a specialised craft. The times of the early Tudors and Elizabethans saw substantial increases in trade and prosperity. The rich and powerful no longer needed to build ‘castles’ that would withstand attack; in the relatively peaceful times of the the Renaissance, houses could be designed to look beautiful and to reflect the wealth of their owners. Stone continued to be used for things like windows, where carved ornamentation was required, but walls and chimneys would be made from bricks, which could be woven into patterns and decorative designs.
The way that house building materials are manufactured is beginning to change. Bricks are being produced from new materials as clay is replaced by plastic alternatives. Interior walls are now constructed from breeze-blocks; ceilings and walls use plasterboards; wall cavities use boards made of wood aggregates and roofing materials have moved away from slate to cheaper and longer-lasting alternatives. The next big change is likely to be the replacement of naturally grown timber with plastic materials that have the same properties and which can be worked in much the same way but which are more resistant to decay, insects and deterioration over time.
Houses having two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living rooms is a fairly new development in this country. In the middle ages domestic dwellings for poor people usually had only one room and in this the family cooked, ate and slept alongside their animals which were brought into the building for the night. In was not until later times, as the wealth of working people increased, that dwellings began to develop separate rooms for different functions, such as bedrooms and kitchens. It was not until the industrial revolution that houses began to feature separate rooms as standard for the majority of working people. The wealthy did of course have separate rooms and the very rich built large houses with a variety of rooms; often with a separation between those where the family lived and those where their servants lived and worked.

Today,  social status is indicated by the number of bedrooms a home has as well as by the number of cars that can be accommodated in the garage space. There was a trend, the 1980s, for the professional classes to move out of urban areas into rural villages as a way of increasing their quality of life. Estates of new build houses sprung up in villages and green fields all over England in response to this demand.

My brief canter through the history of building materials serves to underscore three things: that society’s notion of ‘the home’ has changed over time; that how houses were built was (and still is) a consequence of industrial and commercial change and development and that today’s world brings a range of new pressures to bear on choices about which materials to build with, that we never saw before. The future of building will also depend on the emergence of new concerns and industrial influences, such as climate change, energy efficiency, the speed and pace at which housing building needs to takes place and the relative cost of traditional materials compared to those that are newly emerging. Today, people are changing, as our society ages and as new people come to live in this country, and these demographic trends will shape what people regard as being a home. Housing policy needs to take account of these trends, as we will see in the parts that follow. [For a complete list of contents of this book see link below]
Is the house brick here to stay? It’s a question that policy makers should be asking. In contemporary Britain the house brick is still the icon of construction, where homes are concerned. Developers still tend to regard brick-built houses as the norm for new constructions. What we see in the current preoccupation with building new houses is a predilection for traditional designs but, within that, pressures to change the materials that are being used and to making houses that meet increasingly complex environmental requirements are increasingly coming into play. The houses being built today might look similar to those built after the second world war but they have many new features designed into them that our grandparents and parents never knew. Energy efficiency, for example, is now designed into the choice of materials for housing building in a way that was unknown to previous generations of builders. New concerns about carbon footprints and climate change are pushing builders to construct houses in a way never seen before. I look at how these new materials and new methods of construction are challenging the supremacy of the brick in the world of house building.
Here are a few examples of the house brick is changing. Wienerberger, a leading supplier of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, has launched its brand new e4 brick house™ concept. Using over 200 years of expertise and innovation, the company has analysed economic and social trends to unveil a unique archetype that directly addresses the UK market need. Wienerberger’s leading clay brick and wall technology provides, its claims, the blueprint for the house of tomorrow – ‘an aspirational living space that is practical, sustainable and innovative’ [Wienerberger, 2015]. What these claims indicate is that manufacturers have begun to think again about the brick and to update the idea of it for present day concerns with environment and profit.
Graduate Henry Miller has devised a way to reuse waste plastic as an aggregate in cement, circumventing the energy-intensive process of plastic recycling. By grinding up landfill-bound plastic and mixing it with Portland cement, Miller was able to create a material just as strong as traditional concrete made with mined aggregate. The construction company that made the EcoArk Pavilion in Taipei demonstrates the imaginative use of recycled materials. The walls of the building were made solely of plastic bottles that fitted together like Lego pieces. [Leggett, 2010] The polygonal bottles, called Polli-Bricks, were made of plastic, recycled from items such as water bottles and make the building structurally sound enough to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, are environmentally friendly, and are relatively cheap to make. The bricks can be blow-moulded out of shredded PETÂ bits at a construction site. They are then stacked into rectangular panels. Workers cover the bricks with a film, similar to the coating found on smartphone screens. The coating makes the panels resistant to fire and water.
Peter Lewis has created an innovative machine that can transform discarded plastic – such as bottles and bags – into building blocks. The rock-hard bricks could be used for garden retaining landscaping walls or other interesting features such as shock absorbers behind crash barriers [Byfusion, 2015] [Geiger, 2011]
The traditional clay house brick is relatively expensive to produce, is heavy to transport and can deteriorate over time. The new bricks that are being made from waste products have many of the properties of traditional bricks – they are robust enough for building – but weigh a lot less; their production is ecologically beneficial in a number of ways and they cost much less to manufacture.
Builders are increasingly willing to try new materials, especially if that gives them a cost advantage. Many of these new materials will be used in houses but will never seen by most of their residents because they are hidden inside the walls and roofs. In Europe, builders appear to be far more willing to change over to these new materials, more willing than they are in this country. British builders have always been slow to change, compared with their European counterparts. Having said this, the present economics of housing building are pushing builders into adopting new methods of of construction and new materials. There is a severe shortage of brick/block layers in the UK. ‘What’s more, housebuilders don’t just need bricks – they also need people to lay them. And here again the laws of supply and demand are working against housebuilders. The price of bricks had reached an all-time high. What’s more, ‘according to one senior executive, the day rate demanded by brickies, at least in London, has almost doubled in the last three months from £140 to £240’ [Branson, 2013]. So what to do? asks Adam Branson. He argues: ‘The choice is clear cut. Housebuilders must either stop expanding, absorb the extra costs and take a hit on their profit margins, or they must seek alternative materials and construction techniques. And evidence is emerging they are increasingly plumping for this last option.’
The traditional brick built house current suffers from two serious shortcomings: bricks are expensive and so too are the people required to lay them. Some builders are responding to this by looking for new designs and try to get round this problem. One alternative is to use more timber in house design and to cut down on the number of bricks used. Changing to newer methods of wall construction can save money and speed the time it takes to complete a building. Where bigger masonry blocks are used, the walls can erected more quickly and with wage rates being so high, time means money. Arguments are seen about whether brick manufacturers can cope with rising levels of demand and whether the timber industry can supply sufficient volume of products.
There are, however, some residents who are willing to abandon traditional materials in favour of a range of new ones, where they can achieve ecological goals alongside aesthetic concerns. Whilst such approaches might be the preserve of the well-off middle classes, those who can afford to be individualistic about home building, there is evidence that avant-guard methods will become the leading edge of a broader change in the construction industry.

Changing patterns of house construction

Given the development of technologies for the production of new building materials and the increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, it is likely that traditional materials will change in the future as house builders move away from the kind of natural materials that have been used for thousands of years. Several aspects of house construction are now subject to revision.
From pre-history to relatively recent times, wood was the standard building material. England was once covered in trees and forests. As the climate changed, so did the landscape; more and more forests were cut down as demand for timber increased. Naturally-occurring woodlands diminished, so much so, that the government began to plant new forests on an industrial scale. In fact, wood had to be imported to make up for the shortages in British-sourced timber. As with the brick, new products are being invented that can do the same work as timber but which are constructed from materials that are cheaper and which confer environmental benefits.
If we go back to medieval times, we see walls being constructed of wattle and daub, mud mixed with manure being used to seal the gaps in the wooden lattices made from branches and twigs. It was not until brick manufacture developed (as the road infrastructure allowed for their transportation) that we saw bricks being used as a common material for the construction of walls in the fourteenth century. Houses were originally single room structures and in them animals spent the night with the human occupants. It was only later in history that residential houses were divided into separate rooms. As wealth grew, more storeys were added. The materials used for house building remained virtually unchanged for many centuries. There were some experiments, in the 20th century, in the use of other kinds of materials for making walls (remember the ‘prefabs’?) but contemporary house building is widely oriented to the use of bricks because of their aesthetic appeal for external walls. Some examples have been televised recently in which walls have been made from blocks of straw over which a plaster was coated, giving an acceptable, if rustic, appearance and allowing for a high degree of heat insulation.
Medieval houses were roofed with thatch made from reeds, the most common form of material used to create a waterproof top to a building. It would be several hundred years before clay tiles or slates were widely used as roofing materials in many parts of the UK. Some roofs were made from wood shingles but the frequency of fires led to the wider use of clay tiles. The use of steel sheets, such as corrugated iron, in roofing has not had much appeal in this country. Roofs were angled to let rain run off.
In medieval stone-built castles, windows were small and often no more than holes in the wall. Only in the very wealthiest of buildings, would glass have been used to keep out the cold and wet. It would be a long time before glass would become a way of creating weatherproof windows in more modest buildings. In modern times, we saw the introduction of PVC plastics to replace the traditional wood frames of windows. More glass is used in houses these days than was ever the case in historical times. Glass consumption rose when windows were produced to provide double or secondary glazing. Windows in domestic houses, these days, are bigger than they have ever been. Window glazing now frequently includes some kind of coating to reduce glare. Today’s houses provide much more light than the rather gloomy, dark houses in which our ancestors lived. In modern houses, window frames are frequently made from plastic rather than wood although some builders prefer to use wood frames for their aesthetic appeal.
In the middle ages houses were built largely without any plans; their construction was based on know-how handed down from one generation of builders to another. Houses gradually became more elaborate in the way they were constructed and builders began to work from drawn architectural plans. During the Victorian era there was a vast increase in the number of houses being built; as people began to live and work in cities they needed to live within walking distance of factories. The design of homes gradually became more and more standardised, driven by the requirements of commercial house-building and the kind of prosperity that led to home-owning classes. People, who wanted to own houses, became used to traditional designs. As prosperity increased, there was a demand for separate kitchens, indoor toilets, bathrooms and separate bedrooms for adults and children. Apart from kitchens, these features rarely appeared in medieval domestic constructions. The increasing sophistication of buildings led to the establishment of the specialised professions of architecture and building design. Today’s commercially-built housing estates use variations in the design of houses, rather than the uniformity that characterised building designs from Victorian times onwards. But the styling of estate houses is based on consistency of look, in this country. Some builders give prospective buyers a say in which materials can be used for finishings, in kitchens and bathrooms for example. The British are very old-fashioned and conservative in their approach to house design, compared to say, their counterparts in Germany. [Jenkins, 2015]

Future trends in house building

When we think of housing, we inevitably think of bricks and mortar. I will go on to argue that many other factors come into play when we begin to discuss modern housing practice – factors such as changing demography, patterns of employment, the need to integrate housing with community facilities and the options we want to make available for increasing the supply of housing. In fact, there are several factors which might see changes being made to the kind of building materials that we have been familiar with over many generations. There will also be changes in house design, moving away from the traditional concept that has dominated our idea of what a home should be like, towards the kind of modern approaches that attracted today’s younger generation of house-buyers. When older people sell their large family homes to downsize to smaller ones they can come into conflict with first-time buyers. One solution to this is to encourage the provision of retirement homes, reserved for people aged 50 and over. There are moves to provide housing that meets the needs of older people – retirement homes that allow the over 60s to free up their larger family homes for occupation by younger people who want to start families. Freeing up accommodation in houses that have an estimated 80 million spare bedrooms, in the private sector, would go a long way to solving the crisis in housing. Many older people, whose families have left home, have two or three empty rooms which could be let out – a point that has not been lost of those trying to deal with the contemporary migration problem. In the social sector, the Government made a big mistake, I would argue, by imposing a ‘bedroom tax’, a measure that has achieved nothing but a welter of unintended consequences. If there is a lot of unused capacity in social housing, it would have been better to find a way of bringing spare rooms into use rather than forcing occupants into smaller flats. As we will see, house building is being offered more alternatives, including the provision of pre-fabricated kits that can be assembled very quickly. ‘Vertical villages’ and ‘gardens in the sky’ could offer solutions to the problem of space shortages in urban areas, which now attract more and more residents. There are plenty of potential solutions to the housing problems faced in the UK and we will be looking at these later on.
In the next instalment, I will look at key policy considerations in the organisation and supply of housing and argue the need for better, more integrated policy solutions for dealing with the nation’s current housing crisis.

Part 1 – Policy, practice and history
Contents of the entire work


Housing Policy contents

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke


Part 1 – Policy, practice, planning and history

Part 2 – Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

Changing patterns of house construction

Future trends in house building

Part 3 – Housing, employment and transport: why we need joined-up policies

The need for affordable homes

Housing is the key to everything

Renting a home

Housing and employment

Housing and unemployment

Employment and transport

Part 4 – Providing better housing stock

Making better use of existing housing stock

Make better use of land

Dealing with the short-fall in housing supply

Part 5 – New approaches to house building

Thinking outside of the box

Where will the future of housing take us?


See also my post about Notes on housing and housing policy in 2016

Housing Policy references

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke


Much of the research conducted when writing this book was done on-line. To help readers locate articles and documents, the references below are available on my blog [Locke 2015], in a format that allows links to be clicked on to bring up the sources.
Aircrete, 2015, website

Allen, Katie, 2014, Brick shortage threatens construction sector’s recovery hopes, The Guardian,

Arts in Leicester magazine, 2015,
BBC, 2013, Horizon: The age of big data (televised programme)

BBC, 2014, Planning law policy ‘fuels inappropriate development’,

BBC, September 2015, ‘Million’ new homes aim declared by minister Brandon Lewis,

Berg, Nate, 2014, Predicing crime – LAPD-style, The Guardian.

Branson, Adam, 2013, Modern methods of construction: Material change?, Building,

Brinkley, Mark, 2015, The best ways to build in Blockwork, Homebuilding & renovating,

Byfusion, 2015, company website,

Cardiff City Council, 2015, Cardiff Housing Strategy 2012 to 2017,

Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2015, House prices to rise 4.7% this year amid supply shortages,

Centre for Housing and Support, 2015, Good practice service,

Chartered Institute of Housing, 2015, About practice online,

Civitas, 2015, The Future of private Renting, Shaping a fairer Market for Tenants and Tax Payers, report by David Bently,

Corbyn, Jeremy, 2015, Tackling the housing crisis,

Dan Wood, 2015, website

Davis, Lindsey, 2014, Blockwork innovations,.

DCLG, 2015, National Planning Policy Framework,

de Castella, Tom, 2015, Why can’t the UK build 240,000 houses a year?, BBC News magazine,

Dean, Lewis, 2015, UK housing market: Rents outgrow house prices in England and Wales amid Summer Budget warning, in International Business Times,

DEFRA, 2015, Policy paper: Towards a one nation economy: A 10-point plan for boosting rural productivity,

Department for Communities and Local Government, 21 November 2011, Policy paper Laying the foundations: a housing strategy for England. UK Government.–2

Department for Communities and Local Government, 2010, Estimating housing need,

Department for Communities and Local Government, May 2015, Policy paper. 2010 to 2015 government policy: rented housing sector. UK Government.

Dorling, Danny, 2015, All That Is Solid. How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It,. Penguin Books.

DWP, 2013, Guidance: Local Housing Allowance guidance and good practice for local authorities (updated in 2014)

Eccles, Louise, 2014, Over 40? Then you CAN’T have a mortgage: Banks are now rejecting borrowers who would still be paying off loan in retirement, The Daily Mail,

Eureka Network, 2015,

Evans, David, 1992, Local Area Profiles of Crime: neighbourhood crime patterns in context (Trevor Locke with Norman Davidson, University of Hull), Chapter 3 in: Crime, Policing and Place: Essays in environmental criminology. Edited by David J Evans et al. 1992. Routledge.

Geiger, Owen, 2011, Recycled plastic block houses,

Government website, 2014, Methodology: assessing housing need, What methodological approach should be used?

Government website, 2015, Tenancy deposit protection.

Green Strata, 2015, website

Guardian, 2015, The Guardian view on Britain’s choice 2015: housing policy Editorial, Guardian newspaper, 27th April 2015.

Guardian, September 2015, We want to build 1m more English homes by 2020, says government.

Hanley, Lynsey, 2012, Private tenants like me need long-term security,The Guardian

HMRC, 2015, Policy paper: Restricting finance cost relief for individual landlords.

Hope, Christopher, 2016, Thousands of new homes to be built by smaller builders, The Telegraph.

Inman, Phillip, 2015, The Guardian, Living wage fears sending ‘shockwaves’ through UK labour market,

Innosupport, 2015, Latvian Technological Centre,

Institute for Fiscal Studies, July 2015, Summer Post Briefing.

Institute for Government, 2011, Making Policy Better: improving Whitehall’s core business,

Institute for Government, 2014, Political economy of housing in England,

Jenkins, David, 2015, Britain’s modern house revolution, The Telegraph,

Kate Allen, June 2015, in Business & Economy (website)

King, Anthony and Crewe, Ivor, 2014, The blunders of our Governments, One World Publications.

Leggett, Brit, 2010, EcoARK Pavilion made from 1.5 Million Plastic Bottles, Inhabitat,

Locke, Trevor, 1990, New Approaches to crime in the 1990s: planning responses to crime, Longman.

Locke, Trevor, 2015, House Bricks, four articles in Arts in Leicestershire magazine (online only)

Locke, Trevor, 2015, Housing policy: The impact of buy-to-let on housing policy, Trevor Locke’s blog,

Lynch, Gerard, 2012, Tudor Brickwork,

NLA, 2015, National Landlords association.

Office of National Statistics, 2013, A century of home ownership and renting in England,

ONS, 2013, Families and Households 2013,

ONS, 2014, Families and Households, 2014,

Office of the first minister, 2007 updated in 2011, A practical guide to policy making in Northern Ireland,

Osborne, Hilary, 2015, Powers to bring empty houses into use ‘ignored’, The Guardian, 11th February 2015.

Owen, Jonathan, 2014, More people now rent privately than from councils or housing associations, The Independent,

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

Property Wire, 2015,

Sheffield City Council, 2014, Housing Strategy Action Plan 2013 – 2016.

Sheffield City Council, 2015, Housing strategies and consultations,

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Shelter, 2015, Good practice guides.

Sosmart money blog, 2015,

Standing, Guy, 2011, The Precariat – The new dangerous class, Policy Network.

Szu Ping Chan, 2015, UK brick shortage will prolong housing crisis, The Telegraph,

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Thisismoney, 2014,Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014


Thisismoney, 12th January 2016,

Treasury, HM, 2015, Budget 2015, HC1093, March 2015.

UCL, 2014, Demolition or Refurbishment of Social Housing? A review of the evidence, University College London.

Valuations Office Agency, 2015,

Wienerberger, 2015,

Wikipedia, 2015, Bosco Verticale.

Contents of the entire work