Canada Water Culture Space, London (****)

© Richard Lakos

© Richard Lakos

What an amazing outfit Cardboard Citizens continues to be. Not content with empowering young homeless people by engaging them with their Act Now programme, their Forum theatre uniquely puts the participation back into `audience participation’. So many companies pay lip service to the idea but CC put their money where their mouth is.

First, a short play is staged around a given subject – last night the intriguing subject of the adolescent brain and how it works (or doesn’t!), acted by the young members of Act Now with extraordinary confidence and later, flexibility.

Guided by Tony McBride as mc/guide/and enabler, the audience are encouraged from the beginning to put in their pennyworth. Last night, it was to offer information with definitions of neuroscience’s meta cognition (self-awareness might be a good stand-in) and how the teenage brain differs from the adult one. Research these days concludes that whilst certain parts of the adolescent brain are developing fast, like a faulty car, the braking mechanism has not quite kept pace with the accelerator!

© Richard Lakos

© Richard Lakos

The exciting part comes, however, crucially, with interventions from audience members

stepping up to play out suggestions as to how individuals might make different choices at certain moments, to produce better outcomes in their lives.

Meta’s `story’ – sharp and contemporary by playwright Sarah Woods – involved two teenagers, a photo posted on social media, bullying and a mother, resulting in subsequent lively discussions around the risks involved in posting photos of a sexual nature on social media but also about curtailing anger and listening.

Last night it was overwhelmingly women prepared to put themselves up for ridicule as they acted out the mistakes they thought the boy-friend, various school-friends and even the authority figures of mother and teacher were making.

© Richard Lakos

© Richard Lakos

Often hilarious, McBride’s gentle prodding nonetheless proves powerfully transformative , offering as it does strategies and tools in a manner at once dramatic and challenging but always constructive – particularly in the idea (which could be taken straight out of the Mindfulness handbook) that despite the teeming thoughts and emotions bombarding a teenager’s brain, thoughts are not facts.

Participation was never such fun or so enlightening – and not for adolescents alone.

Highly recommended.

Meta presented by Cardboard Citizens is touring, for more details see

Review first published in Reviewsgate, March 2016