Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Cardboard Citizens' Benefit
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Cardboard Citizens' Benefit
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Cardboard Citizens' Benefit
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15 May REVIEW: Cardboard Citizens’ Benefit

It’s an unusual play that doesn’t have audiences screaming in their heads at the protagonist to do something differently. To say something else, or to make another choice. But imagine if you had the power to stop the play, and go on stage yourself, replace that character, make those different decisions, and see if you could improve their situation? Welcome to the world of forum theatre, a fledgling new concept in theatre being explored by Cardboard Citizens, and incorporated into their current show, Benefit, which takes a look at three different benefit claimants, claimants very different to those that fill our television screens night after night.

Benefit is a show of two acts, the first a play in the conventional sense of the word, and the second using forum theatre, throwing out audience discussion of the themes and ideas brought out in the first, with a run through of certain scenes where the audience are given the chance to intervene. Almost like a post show discussion taken to new levels, forum theatre is an empowering approach, finishing on a practical note of things participants can do without altering policy. But as ever, when audience members are invited to make suggestions and engage in debate, the experience is entirely dependent on the other members of the audience, their political perspectives and degree of knowledgeability – as well as their own ability to act and improvise.

The play itself elegantly interweaves three seemingly separate stories, “Sanctioned,” “Zero,” and, “Pip Pip,” all accounts of people who have bourne the blunt end not only of the social security system, but of the changes to it, and all accounts that cast a sad light over the status quo. Probably as politically motivated a show as it is possible to be, it’s certainly not one without agenda, making points around access to support, and the degree of empathy and joined up thinking afforded to some of society’s most vulnerable people. Highlighting the stories of some of those who have fallen through the cracks in a system that benefits so many, but that’s so popularly demonised, using forum theatre makes Benefit feel constructive rather than provocative or just bemoaning policy, by incorporating significant amounts of self reflection and by asking which decisions could have produced a different outcome?

In between creating lovely moments of episode convergence, as seen from multiple perspectives, the script is more explanatory than lyrical, telling precisely what happened to each character and why, rather than stylising the stories. An approach fitting for putting on stage what are depicted as largely factual accounts, the significant departure from this in “Pip Pip” is, from an artistic perspective, the most exciting facet to the play. Through nothing but dialogue, scriptwriter Sarah Woods recreates life through the eyes of one man, whose comprehension of the world and his situation is different to other people’s, and who doesn’t always hear what’s intended by the speaker. It takes a giant leap forward from the other two stories, truly permitting the audience to empathise, and to understand rather than just observing, which increases the impact of the final story exponentially.

With nothing but chairs for props and scenery, the barely there production gives voices to a group of people rarely heard, underrepresented and often less able to fight for their cause, highlighting injustice and challenging policy. Despite not being the most sophisticated piece of drama that ever existed, Benefit is theatre that’s the pinnacle of relevance, that serves a political purpose, and that offers a level of engagement through the forum section that’s absolutely unparalleled.

Dates: 3rd March – 10th June 2015 (touring)
For information and tickets:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here