We Are All Misfits

Posted on: 20 January 2014

Written by: Terry O'Leary

You never know who is sitting in an audience. 

In the spring of 2013 Cardboard Citizens were touring Glasshouse by Kate Tempest, to hostels and daycentres. One evening in the depths of winter we found ourselves performing in the Simon Community’s daycentre and from that we were asked to create a new play celebrating 50 years of the Simon Community. This was perfect timing as we had wish to stage a community play for those members who wanted to have the experience of being part of a large production.

The first step was research on the Simon Community and its founder Anton Wallich-Clifford. Penny Cliff the writer and myself travelled down to Wales to visit the home of M.T. Gibson-Watt the wife of Aton whose home housed the vast archive of the Simon Community. We spent three days sifting through some of the material. Where to start? There were mountains of boxes. Thankfully M.T. had set aside the dairies and night logs from the various houses dating back to 1963. As we sat and read the daily accounts of everyday events, of the people who lived and worked in those houses, the struggles faced, we knew this was the story we wanted to tell.

The next step was to setup a weekly evening workshop over six weeks to bring the cast together and to share the research we brought back. We decided that the cast would be twenty Cardboard Citizens and the priority would be those who hadn’t had the experience of a full blown play with a five-days a week rehearsal schedule over four weeks.

Sarah Levinsky was brought in as our dance choreographer, Reynaldo Young as the Musical Director, Lucy Sierra as Design and Jacob Zwart as our lighting designer. The final bit of the jigsaw was Abby Berridge as Company Stage Manager.

We wanted to tell the story of how Anton Wallich Clifford put into place a radical new idea for helping the “Jakies”, the meth drinkers, who lived on the many bombsites that were still around in the 60’s. He used his experience as a social worker and probation officer over 10 years to gain their trust by sitting with them on the sites as they drank and told their stories. What he imagined was a community that was caring and cared for; a community that lived together running the house and volunteers and those brought into the house were expected to live together as equals. His felt that we are all misfits in some way or another, and the only way to help people is to share their burden.

The Simon Community took over rundown houses and introduced the notion of tiered houses, meaning people could move on from the street into the first tier of housing offering stability so that people could decide how they wanted to deal with getting back into the mainstream society. Second tier was much more structured and required breakfast meeting to allocate the chores of the day which involved setting up soup/sandwich runs to befriend those out on the streets. They raised awareness of the plight of the homeless community with talks and media campaigns. They fundraised to keep opening new houses. The Simon Community had houses all over the United Kingdom and Ireland. The wanted to stay independent and refused any funding from the state. They wanted a community that lived and worked with homeless people in a spirit of love, acceptance, tolerance and understanding to provide a place of belonging. We were truly inspired from the diaries and journals that charted this audacious plan which finally opened up Simonwell Farm.

It came as no surprise that members of the Simon Community went on to take these principles to start St. Mungos, Cyrene’s and the Liverpool Petrus Community. It became very obvious that we now live in much harsher times and it is a cruel age for those living on the margins of society.

With rehearsals over, we moved into a beautiful Victorian warehouse in Bermondsey (47/49 Tanner St) to celebrate this extraordinary community on the eve of its 50th anniversary with four performances of We are all Misfits. It was a magical show and the cast pulled it out of the bag playing to a sold-out crowd every night. As ever, it was with the help of a small army of people working behind the scenes that helped make it such an exciting project a resounding success. Thanks to all involved and we hope you enjoy the gorgeous photographs from Hugh Hill.

Click here to see the full album of pictures from We Are All Misfits.


With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded