A 'warm, funny and thought-provoking' play at the Festival Fringe
Hostel is Fionnula Kennedy’s directorial debut and the first play from the newly formed Slide Away Productions. To complete the hat trick of firsts, it’s being staged as part of the Belfast Fringe Festival which this year runs alongside the main Ulster Bank Festival at Queen’s for the first time.
Hostel examines what life is like for young women living in sheltered accommodation via the story of Maria. Officially classed as homeless, Maria and her daughter are offered a flat in a hostel. She is initially sceptical, not seeing herself as one of the ‘fighters’ or ‘survivors’ she expects to be living there. As she gets to know the other residents and staff, we see her anxiety turn to friendship and a sense of belonging.
The modest venue, the Community Arts Forum in Writer’s Square, complements Kennedy’s authentic writing and gives the audience a perfect view of proceedings. The un-fussy production leaves the focus very much on the script and acting.
All three actresses display an adept understanding of character and, in fact, it’s the characterisation that makes Hostel so enjoyable. There’s Stacey, brash and scary but kind behind all the front; Kate, who is depressed and always sounds if as she’s half asleep; and Rose, the typical smiley person, happy no matter what life throws at her.
There’s a sense of tension and anger underlying much of Hostel – of the pre-eminence of the bureaucracy and the powerlessness of the individual to confront it. The hostel system is explored through increasing conflict between the residents and staff, raising some important questions: Are the rules for the benefit of the residents or the staff? Is charity always a positive force? Does sheltered housing infantilise people and stop them being able to live as independent adults?
Contrary to the current dominant media narrative, motherhood is not romanticised, but laid bare for the thankless, repetitive and boring task it can be. Kennedy’s writing makes the children conspicuous despite their absence – they are constantly referred to, prominent in the lives of their mothers, yet the women come across as complex individuals, not just mums.
Hostel is warm, funny and thought-provoking. At only one hour in length, it's short and sweet, but I could easily have sat for a second hour and wanted to follow Maria into the next part of her life. That said this is a nuanced and relevant discussion of issues that, as a society, we all too often prefer to brush under the carpet.