One-woman show explores austerity Britain at Toynbee Studios

PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 May 2016

Catherine Hoffman presents Free Lunch with the StenchWench on June 14. Picture: Lisa Alexander

Catherine Hoffman presents Free Lunch with the StenchWench on June 14. Picture: Lisa Alexander


Drop scones, rats and searing shame are all up for discussion in a thought-provoking live performance about growing up in austerity Britain.

Performance artist Catherine Hoffman will bring her latest piece, Free Lunch with the StenchWench to the Toynbee Studios next month – her most personal to date.

In it she explores a childhood moving rapidly from one place to the next, never settling, “always wheelin’dealin’.”

“We didn’t have a washing machine so all the dirty nappies would pile up in the bath, it was so disgusting,” said the 43-year-old, who now lives in Bow.

“The performance is about not feeling shame any more – I don’t need to feel it, nor does anybody else.”

The oldest of seven children, Catherine was born in Sidcup, Kent and travelled all over Scotland and the UK in her youth. Her parents’ employment was “precarious”, admits Catherine, who makes thrifty but delicious drop scones on stage – the same recipe used by her mum.

“This is not just my story, it’s the story of millions of people,” says Catherine.

“I just hope that by telling it people will lose their shame.”

Catherine says that if anything, being poor now is even worse than growing up in Thatcher Britain.

“I think it’s actually got worse. I think the current government hasn’t helped at all in terms of the whole austerity measures.”

The idea for the show came after she lost her job, and her flatmate got fleas from her friend’s dog.

“I was ashamed of literally not coming up to scratch – I was always covering up as a kid,” she said.

“It was interesting how that feeling of shame brought it all back up again, and I decided to create something out of it.”

A loop pedal and her own songs all play a part in the live performance, which has elements of both the serious and absurd.

Ten tips on being feckless also punctuates the humourous show.

“It’s about the humdrum of austerity – it was tough, and chaotic.”

Free Lunch with the StenchWench is developed with the support of The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, Stanley Halls and Arts Council England.

The show will be staged at Beyond Bloodlines festival at The Cockpit from June 10-12 before coming to the Toynbee Studios on June 14. Tickets cost £8. Go to to book.

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