Pleasance, London and on tour

© Richard Davenport

© Richard Davenport

I can’t remember an evening that got me more excited than this one witnessed at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

As many might know by now, Cardboard Citizens have been working with and for the homeless for over 20 years old. I’ve seen some of their past productions – they did a memorable co-RSC promenade production of Timon of Athens in a deserted warehouse – but I can’t remember seeing a performance where Forum theatre was part of the evening.

The brainchild of Brazilian theatre guru, Augusto Boal, Cardboard Citz have been using the technique for some time in their regular work with hostels and communities, less often in a theatre setting. So this was a revelation.

Last night, the second half of Sarah Woods’ clever overlapping drama on issues around the benefit cuts and its impact on vulnerable people was given over to audience participation in a way I’ve never seen before.

For the first half, based on detailed research and real life histories, the three stories highlighted Rosa, put onto Jobseekers allowance but thanks to its rigidities steadily reduced to penury. Next, Chloe, a nurse and Craig her husband ran adrift on the exploitation that is zero hours contracts, his steadily declining income leading to depression, sexual impotence and porn addiction. Like Rosa, he too ends up at the food bank. Finally Patrick, given medication that leaves him befuddled, unable to understand what is being said to him, leads him to brink of suicide.

© Richard Davenport

© Richard Davenport

All three stories carefully, even sometimes humorously, underline the inhumanity that comes with the Kafkaesque administration of the Coalition’s new legislation on benefits. Needless to say, production and performances on Lucy Sierra’s elegant, all purpose shiny box set are pungent and poignant in equal measure.

Come the second half, director Adrian Jackson and facilitator Terry O’Leary – not for nothing are they also dubbed `Jokers’ as they provoke and nudge audiences into responses – invited the audience to intervene with positive proposals of how the character/narrative could be changed to produce better outcomes.

The result was an extraordinarily rich, energised hour of engagement and insight. I urge anyone in their vicinity (see their website for tour details) to catch them.

First published in Reviewsgate, March 2015