You shouldn’t feel ashamed for having very little says performance artist Catherine Hoffmann, at Colchester Arts Centre tonight

Performance artist Catherine Hoffman brings her latest show, Free Lunch with the StenchWench, to Col

Performance artist Catherine Hoffman brings her latest show, Free Lunch with the StenchWench, to Colchester Arts Centre tonight. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Performance artist Catherine Hoffmann brings her latest show, Free Lunch with the StenchWench, to Colchester Arts Centre tonight. Described as a humiliating scrap with growing up skint in flat broke Britain, she talks about the “shame of lack”.

Described as a humilating scrap with growing up skint in flat broke Britain, she talks about the “sh

Described as a humilating scrap with growing up skint in flat broke Britain, she talks about the shame of lack. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Described as a humiliating scrap with growing up skint in flat broke Britain and a rallying cry for times of brutal cuts and disparity, Catherine says the “shame of lack” she experienced growing up in the 1970s and 1980s hasn’t disappeared.

“It’s just as much as it ever was. It could even be worse. It’s always the case in moments of so-called austerity that the vulnerable get scape-goated. It’s either the disabled, immigrants or the poor,” says the artist, with the gap between the haves and the have nots growing and life becoming a survival game.

Broken Britain has become a well-worn phrase. Catherine, whose latest show is a solo account of shame and poverty from a personal perspective, says it’s not that black and white.

“Broken and fixed are very polar (terms); there is a fluid thing in-between but I do think at the moment things are in a very bad way. I suppose what’s so broken is the idea of the transparency of the corruption in politics, yet more people just get away with it.


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“At the same time, there are always amazing people doing amazing things, community wise, charity wise, etc. If anything, maybe people will start pulling together more and more.”

Free Lunch With The StenchWench, at Colchester Arts Centre tonight, charting the drive for survival and fitting in. A one-woman flea circus, Catherine shares stories of growing up as one of the “feral underclass” while precariously existing in today’s austerity Britain.

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Taking in her itinerate childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, she attempts to overcome the “shame of lack” and celebrate the spirit of community and hope. Along the way she also takes a look at how a family functions within English society, its values and what is considered acceptable or not.

It all started with an Airbnb guest that turned into a nightmare situation.

“They found fleas a cat I was looking after had left behind. It escalated into this big drama and she left really upset. I realised I reacted so strongly because it brought up those familiar feelings of like I had to pretend I was measuring up.”

She found the concept of shame, particularly in relation to class and poverty, fascinating.

“I don’t know if I would have made this piece 10 years ago,” says Catherine, who’s worked in theatre for more than a decade. She’s performed everywhere from the National Portrait Gallery, Latitude and Southbank Centre to as far afield as Seoul, Korea and Holland.

“I would say out of all the work I’ve been making over the years it’s probably the most personal. For me, it’s about exposing growing up poor but of course that can obviously easily sway into ‘oh poor me’ which is totally not what I want.

“It’s more about going this ‘is my story. I used to feel less than whereas now I don’t’ because I’m trying to expose this idea of shame - one should not feel ashamed for having very little.”

To be truthful, to delve into the subject deeply; she knew she’d have to throw herself fully into the piece.

Free Lunch also explores her family history. She spent Christmas interviewing relatives and a lot of their text is in the piece. She reenacts those conversations. She’s her mum one moment, her dad the next. His recollections of growing up in Brixton even form the basis for a punk song.

“It’s very direct... Punchy. Humour is very important and it swings from really ridiculous absurdity, then it will go into quite a sad bit. The piece has lots of lightness and fun, then suddenly go into a dark terrain. It changes dynamic. People never quite settle and I like that.”

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