Big Issue Foundation

“We want to tell their story in every part of the UK.”

“Unknown”, a play inspired by the stories of Big Issue vendors, has had it’s first outing as a stage play in Autumn 2021 having being delayed due to the nationwide lockdowns. After its success, they now plan to tell their story in every part of the UK.

“Unknown”, a play inspired by the stories of Big Issue vendors, has had it’s first outing as a stage play in Autumn 2021 after being delayed due to the nationwide lockdowns.

The play that tells the story of one young person’s dramatic journey from an abusive childhood into a life of homelessness in Bath.

The show has been written by playwright Dougie Blaxland with the assistance of Chris Taylor, a member of the sales and outreach team at The Big Issue in Bath, and six people based in the area who have recent experience of homelessness. These experiences included those of Big Issue vendors Ian DuffLloyd ‘Posty’ Rusdale and Anthony Williams. The production, which incorporates their words and experiences, is staged with their consent and support.

Ian Duff said “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.”

Originally scheduled for 2020, the production was halted due to ongoing nationwide lockdowns and was instead adapted as an audio performance for radio. It was 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.

The radio drama received rave reviews from critics and listeners, including the acclaimed film director Ken Loach who said:“Harrowing stories eloquently told-all the more shocking because we know them to be true.”

The entire team behind the production were delighted to finally be able to take to the stage in September and October 2021 with performances in London, Bristol and Bath.

Dougie said: “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.”

Scott Bayliss and Dan Gaisford. Image by Lisa Hounsome

Scott Bayliss – a member of the cast of Unknown – described it as “a privilege to have been involved in such a compelling and important project and I hope that we have raised awareness of the tragic potential consequences of homelessness and made the people who so many of us pass by and ignore every day more visible.”

The stage play, much like the radio play, has been received well. Miles Headley at The Greenwich Visitor said it was “ a seriously important piece of work that deserves as wide – and as angry – an audience as possible”.

Dougie and the team have been delighted by the response the show, which at it’s heart is a social commentary on the times we see ourselves living in now.

He said: “Everyone involved in creating Unknownwas overwhelmed by the response of our audiences, and because the experiences of the people who helped us write the play are a national and not a local phenomenon, we want to tell their story in every part of the UK.”

There are now plans to apply for funding to take the hard-hitting drama to audiences across the country as part of an extended national tour.

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