Big Issue vendors’ stories at heart of ‘poignant’ new radio play

Playwright Dougie Blaxland interviewed Big Issue vendors to create ‘Unknown’ – a young person’s story of homelessness in affluent Bath

Big Issue vendors will tell their “powerful, poignant” story of homelessness in a brand-new radio play to be released next month.

Tales from sellers Ian Duff, Lloyd ‘Posty’ Rusdale and Anthony Williams inspired Unknown, a new audio performance that tells the story of one young person’s dramatic journey from an abusive childhood into a life of homelessness in Bath.

Commissioned by The Big Issue with the support of Arts Council England and The Big Lottery, the trio of “co-authors” helped playwright Dougie Blaxland create an accurate portrayal of the realities of homelessness in 2020.

Originally meant to be a stage play, Dougie was forced to switch his focus to a radio play due to Covid-19 as well as abandoning plans to perform outdoors in the cold.

But Unknown will get its premiere performance in Bath’s Green Park Station at 19.30 on October 9 to an invited audience including award-winning film director Ken Loach.

Unknown radio play
Unknown radio play cast and crew
The cast and crew behind 'Unknown' managed to put the radio play together despite the Covid-19 pandemic

From there, the play, put together by Roughhouse Theatre, will be broadcast across the UK by radio and theatre outlets including The Belgrade Theatre Coventry, The Greenwich Theatre London, Salford Arts, Theatre Royal Bath and South Street Studio Reading.

Bath vendor Ian Duff went along to see rehearsals and he told The Big Issue that it was “an honour” to be involved with the production.

“It was quite a poignant story, I was quite touched by it. What really hit me was the statistics and the amount of unknown deaths on the streets. It’s quite frightening because and that is what saddened me the most,” said Ian, who was interviewed by Dougie alongside Lloyd and Anthony as well as fellow locals who have experienced homelessness Sammy Clark, Nathan Dempster and Paul Jones.

“The story is the story of everyone on the street, it’s our story. It could happen to any of us.

“The story is so powerful and lots of my customers are asking about it, they are keen to listen. It’s an eye opener.

“It was an honour for me and I’m so glad I was involved in the play. It’s something that I’m really proud of.”

Unknown’s story is told by three actors, Dan Gaisford, Sabrina Laurison and Alex Stedman, charting a young person’s fall into homelessness, disappearance on the streets and their half-sister’s search for their missing sibling.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Dying Homeless project – which The Big Issue played a role in – inspired Dougie to base his 43rd play on homelessness. The 50-minute performance pays tribute to around 300 people who died on the streets between 2017 and 2019 whose name was unknown to authorities. The Museum of Homelessness, who have taken over the Dying Homeless project from the Bureau, say that 1,469 people died without a permanent home between 2017 and 2019 at current count.

Dougie told The Big Issue that speaking to vendors and others to research homelessness has had a transformative effect on his world view.

He said: “This project has changed my life. It has changed my outlook on everything really. It has made me sadder and angrier. And I feel a real sense of privilege in my own life.

“In writing the play I wanted to give people a voice and bring them back into focus – as I know that The Big Issue does.

“I hope that people will go away and engage in the debate about what we do as a society. I want them to be sufficiently moved to want to do something – even if it is helping out at as shelter or just having a conversation.

Alex Stedman
Alex Stedman Unknown radio play
Alex Stedman reads through lines at 'Unknown' rehearsals and recordings in Bath

And Dougie’s conversations with Big Issue vendors also had a profound effect on how he views the magazine and its impact on vendors around the UK.

He added: “From all the people I spoke to, the one unifying theme of positivity has been those who have been involved and engaged with The Big Issue. It’s really interesting that The Big Issue seems to have given people self-respect, an identity, an opportunity to come off the streets and so on.

“I think The Big Issue provides that salvation of hope and identity – that has come through very strongly from Ian, Posty and Anthony who have found themselves through The Big Issue following times of real darkness.”

Keep an eye on The Big Issue on Twitter and Facebook and in the magazine in the coming weeks to find out how you can listen to Unknown.

Images: Lisa Hounsome