Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Writer/performer Jenny Witzel tells her story of living on a boat in an “up-and-coming” neighbourhood in South-East London. Born out of protest, CREEKSHOW is a love letter to Deptford Creek and a community fighting for the right to remain. Addressing the wider problem of regeneration, it exposes the real-life impact of the current housing and cost-of-living crises. Bringing to life an archive of mudlarked artefacts, CREEKSHOW is a multimedia exploration of a place transformed beyond recognition.
We enter the space to a soundscape of the bustle of Deptford High St and the voice of a local woman, creating a nice sense of what is to come.
Writer and performer, Jenny Witzel, introduces her story of discovering Deptford Creek via the need for somewhere to live and two years aboard one of the boats moored on the Creek. We hear a little of the history of Deep Ford as it started and the Creek, once the home of the first Royal Dockyard. This started a journey of exploration: of the stories of the boaters, of local people and of the Creek itself as she joins walks and mudlarking.
Interspersed with her descriptive sections, Witzel presents spoken word pieces using an overhead projector to show items found in the tidal mud of the creek – a shoe, a VHS video (ironically of Titanic), a toy car and muses on the people and places they may have come from. The whole underscored with a sound design by Calum Perrin. Her writing is nuance and lyrical and she makes good use of a microphone to add a different layer to the whole, although I occasionally found the sound/mic balance drowned her gentle voice a little obscuring some of the words.
She concludes with a presentation of the way that developers are changing Deptford with overpowering blocks of ‘luxury’ flats. Although this gentrification is mentioned earlier, the threading of it more explicitly through the piece could build a sense of the tensions that are growing locally and across all of London’s waterways. Developers drawn to the waterside who then build in ways that destroy the very thing that attracted them.
It is clear that Witzel undertook a great deal of research in developing the show – interviews with boaters, local people, the walks with the Creekside Discovery Centre. I was intrigued by the voice we heard as we entered and was disappointed not to hear more. They, presumably, gave their time freely to tell their stories. Stories that, if juxtaposed with this perspective of a newcomer, could create depth and strengthen the claim of the show to be about ‘a community fighting for the right to remain’ as well as recognise and honour their contributions.
The descriptive parts of the show are interesting and well illustrated with images of the area; however, an oft repeated mantra for theatre is ‘show not tell’ and I would like to have seen more of Witzel’s skill with words, sound and imagery to build the ‘showing’, the potential theatricality.
Overall, this is an evocative and touching personal tale of discovering one of the many almost hidden waterside communities of London. The ebb and flow of the stories reflect the movement of the tide on which she lived and came to understand the threats that they face.
Personally, I would like to see it grow into its description of a piece ‘addressing the wider problem of regeneration’ that takes the stories of those living through it to expose ‘the real-life impact of the current housing and cost-of-living crises’. Something truly powerful and challenging underpinned by the voices of those living through, and feeling powerless in the face of, ruthless redevelopment.