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Anyone's Guess How We Got Here: Barrel Organ Theatre's Dan Hutton on Making A Show About Debt and Grief

Barrel Organ are a UK-based touring company founded in the West Midlands that work collaboratively to create politically engaged theatre, and are associate artists at Camden People's Theatre. Founding member Dan Hutton writes for us about the conception of their 'unsettling and intriguingly disruptive' 'new show about debt, eviction and childhood, Anyone's Guess How We Got Here.

From the dawn of modern capitalism, our society was built on debt. If you want a house, an education, a mobile phone or a car, you’re likely to need some kind of loan. A contract which binds you to the lender for the foreseeable future. And that ‘future’ is the key word; when debts stack up, our whole sense of time is disoriented.

Say you owe someone £10. It could be a friend or a bank – it doesn’t matter. Now, let’s also imagine you earn £10 an hour. In this scenario, your lender owns you for an hour of your time. For every minute of that hour, you are earning money to pay that person back. Your future is someone else’s. And, until you’ve paid it off, there will be an invisible thread connecting your present and past.

This entanglement of time and money forms the crux of Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here, which is playing at Camden People’s Theatre from 10th-28th October. It starts with two friends in a car arguing about what time it is; their clock has broken and they’ve been driving for hours. Laura is heading to her father’s funeral. But before that, she needs to return to her childhood home. To find something she left behind when her family moved out, narrowly avoiding eviction. When she enters her old house, time begins to work in strange ways.

Image © Joe Twigg

Leaping off from David Lynch’s dream-worlds to the way horror films makes the invisible visible, we wanted to make a show which delved deep into the psychology of debt and grief. We wanted to take an audience deep into a hole and out the other side. If your past and your relationship with your father is tangled up in a web of money and indebtedness, then what happens when you return to that place? How do we come to terms with loss, and become freed from it?

In making Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here, we read a lot about ‘zombie debt’, a genuine problem with a Hollywood name. In the case of consumer debt, if you fail to pay your lender back within six years, the statute of limitations comes into effect and the debt is – technically – wiped clean. You no longer owe that money, legally. The lender writes off the debt as a loss. However, it doesn’t end here. The lender may then sell the debt on to debt collection agency. The collectors buy the rights to a debt for a fraction of its full value, and pursue the debtor by any means necessary, to collect a profit on their purchase. You no longer owe it; the debt is dead, a corpse. But, if you pay as much as a penny back on this written-off debt, the debt is legally reanimated; it becomes a walking corpse, a zombie. And the process starts all over again.

We wanted to make a show that spoke to the insidious nature of debt, on an emotional rather than an intellectual level. We wanted to find the best way of expressing how it feels to be indebted, to owe something – whether to family or amorphous companies. We wanted to express the anger we feel at the fact that our total debt as a company of twentysomethings exceeds £300,000 and the sadness we feel that we’ll never pay it back. We wanted to find a story that spoke to the explosion of household debt in the UK, to the millions who depend on debt, extortionate loans, to get by. Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here is a scary story told at night, a nightmare vision of the world we live in, an attempt to take it all apart and start again.

Anyone's Guess How We Got Here by Barrel Organ from Camden People's Theatre on Vimeo.