To enter the set-design workshop you have to go through the dressmaking workshop, where a man with a ponytail tries to ignore you while he sews. Once in the set-design space - about the size of a living room - you have to avoid the oil paintings kept there by an artist who shares the studio. Welcome to the world of the young, skint and self-employed.
Take that workshop and multiply by 250 and you've got Bow Arts: a low-rent industrial space in east
Now multiply that until you get 400,000 - the number of self-employed jobs added to the British workforce in the past year. Add tens of thousands of low-paid regular jobs and you get the headline the government does not want to talk about: a five-year collapse in real wages, especially among the young.
These figures are not hard to summarise: we're creating jobs hand over fist by allowing the young to work for peanuts. Conventional economic models say:"Don't worry, all the slaving, starving and powerlessness you're going through now will end at some point as wages rise." However, conventional models might be wrong. They are based on a world in which there are national labour markets and wage-bargaining power - either because of unions or a shortage of professional skills. But the post-crash British economy is creating the kind of jobs where the labour market is international and bargaining power weak.
Plus, you can only understand the labour market if you look beyond it. In the 20th-century economy, a decent job and a permanent home were the most important things: now it's any job, a bedroom on a one-year lease and a credit card. You can't be in the modern, heavily financialised economy unless you have a credit card, a bank account and a mobile.
The new psychology of unskilled work is that people will accept rock-bottom pay, irregular hours and poor conditions just to remain in the workforce. Or form a co-op like Charlotte and Samara, and pay themselves next to nothing.
They're both graduates aged 27: how long do they expect to wait until they get a decent, well-paid job? More embarrassed laughter. "I've never had a decent well-paid job," says Samara.
Strangely enough, we once had a political party whose entire brand, and even name, was centred around improving the wages and conditions of people who work. Five years ago it was promising people a future of "high-skilled, high-paid" work, backed up with the cheery slogan "British jobs for British workers". Last weekend this party had a conference where numerous policies were agreed. However, the real difficulty lies not with policies but with the structure of the labour market.
If you wanted to give the
Then you would need to put the polytunnels and the agencies and the rip-off cleaning empires and minicabs out of business by stacking employment law in favour of permanent work. Yes - you would have to forcibly make some current business models impossible, just as they did with On the Waterfront-style dock labour, where you stood in a line to be hired by the half- or quarter-day.
You would have to stamp out bogus self-employment, stamp out blacklisting, stamp out the practice whereby the "crew" of a fast-food shop can vote out a new worker on the first day because he or she didn't smile hard enough.
To do this, you would have to step away from the euphemisms about "hard-working families": you can't have a hard-working family if you are 27, paid nothing and share a room with two other people. You are, simply, a low-paid worker.
The moment a party says: "We stand for the low-paid worker against the loan shark, the rip-off landlord and the profiteering boss," young people in places such as Bow Arts might show some glimmer of interest in politics - instead of the utter cynicism and detachment that is routine.
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