Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders
- Anahit Behrooz
- 19 August 2019
This article is from 2019
A heartbreaking examination of collective responsibility
The actors of Bystanders greet each audience member as they enter, friendly, cheerful, engaged. A small gesture, it dramatically sets the scene for the play's focus on and advocacy of mutual responsibility, care, and attention. Performed by theatre company Cardboard Citizens, a group who create theatre with and for homeless people, Bystanders unflinchingly tackles the epidemic of homeless death and violence in the UK, highlighting the structural and individual neglect that permits these deaths.
Bystanders' small and extremely talented cast weave together several true stories of homeless people suffering under the failure of the welfare state and its citizens' indifference, switching roles and narratives seamlessly and lending the play a vivacity and energy that defiantly resists passivity. In perhaps its most powerful denial of silencing, Bystanders reveals how some of these stories intersect with broader current affairs, including the Salisbury poisoning and the Windrush scandal, categorically demonstrating how the experiences and abuse of the homeless is constantly present in society.
Powerful and heartbreaking, Bystanders is an essential study on social accountability and complicity, and on the power of narrative as a means of empowerment. Many of the subjects' stories have never before been told, the audience is informed, forgotten in the recesses of bureaucracy and a failed media. By finally giving them a voice, Bystanders acts as both devastating eulogy and bold challenge to systemic erasure.
Summerhall, until 25 Aug (not 19), 11.30am, £12 (£10).