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“Cardboard Citizens makes theatre for social change”.
A bold statement, but one that this unique theatre company is ardently pursuing through their thought-provoking work. Deeply rooted in the Theatre of the Oppressed, a methodology of practitioner Augusto Boal, Cardboard Citizens uses their craft to give voice to some of the stories that simply aren’t being heard within our society – in particular those of the homeless and ex-homeless.
Delivered as a verbatim performance, Here. Us. Now. is a project which seems to epitomise their objective in not only highlighting these stories, but in keeping their voices completely genuine to source. Produced as a series of eight short films, this is a view into the lives of people living in housing estates across London. Through their eyes we are taken on an exploration of gentrification, community, crime, politics, isolation and the effects of change. How these topics are viewed by those within social housing, and by those outside of it, creates the narrative of these films, a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Each film, only a couple of minutes long, takes its text from an interview held with a resident of one of these estates. Their words are then performed by an actor who recites the text as verbatim – the residents voice being fed to them through headphones from a recording. Each artist gives a very open performances through their natural delivery. They do well not to overwork the text or add strong interpretation that wasn’t there to begin with. Though this method may seem like a redundant task – a regurgitation of someone else’s words – it acts to create a separation through which we feel more comfortable to digest and dissect the information.
Filmmaker and director Dorothy Allen-Pickard is not precious in her approach to these films, cultivating an almost freeform feel within the production. With generous use of locations, and both archive and original footage of the estates, there is a distinctive documentary style to the filming. However, the conceit of this is often broken when the actor is sometimes over layered with the original recording of the resident. On a few of occasions the actor is even accompanied by the resident whose words they are speaking, leading to a brilliant moment where a resident chortles at his own words being read aloud. This method is the purest form of verbatim theatre that I have ever seen, acting like a litmus test of its own honesty.
These day-to-day moments stress the point that every voice in our society matters, and that the opinions of those living in these environments are integral to the decisions being made about them. In such a complex time, and with so many voices being heard louder than ever, these monologues form an integral part of the path to a better society in the ever-modernising landscape of London. These films show the necessity of the arts to implement change, and I like to think that any councillor watching these videos, ready to make a choice that would effect a whole community, would make better decisions because of it.
Here.Us.Now. is now available to stream online via Cardboard Citizens’ website.