Bystanders is a tribute to the shockingly high number of homeless people who die every year. Prompted by a report published last year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that highlighted the under-reporting of these deaths, the play is an interesting mix of imaginative reconstruction and verbatim theatre.
Established theatre company Cardboard Citizens present the tales of six homeless people from very different backgrounds. Whilst a couple of the stories came to the media’s attention, more are tales of the man or woman you pass every day on the street and look over rather than at. The show questions our complicity in what is often seen as systemic neglect and makes us wonder whether it is in fact, a society-wide malaise.
Some of the stories have been gathered from interviews conducted by writer/director Adrian Jackson, while others are based on court reports, inquests or the testimony of surviving family and friends. Most breathtaking is the extent to which we are willing to wash our hands of cases that might be messy and complicated but all involve people and their complex, sometimes untidy lives.
All the actors play multiple characters but Mark Lockyer is particularly versatile; look out for the woolly hatted Django. Libby Liburd, Jake Goode and Andre Skeete have worked on many occasions with Cardboard Citizens previously and bring a warmth and empathy to their performances and a wry wit to the presentation of the verbatim theatre. The production is smartly choreographed by Movement Director Liz Ranken. Imaginative use of audio-visual material is a continual reminder that all these people are real.
At the outset, the performers question whether verbatim theatre is an effective form of storytelling. Recreating our contemporaries on stage is a tough gig. There’s a lot of detail to convey across these separate stories – detail which is often heart-rending. But the speedy switching from one story to another is occasionally tricky to follow and, at times, distances the audience from the subjects.
Alongside the show, Cardboard Citizens launched a campaign: Citizens Do. They’re inviting Fringe goers to sign up to receive three daily actions that can help tackle homelessness from the practical – buying a homeless person a cup of tea – to the political – signing a petition to call for a formal approach to recording homeless deaths in Scotland.
This is an important topic and the production makes a powerful point: that homeless people are too often invisible. But telling fewer stories as part of this tidy hour of theatre would allow the remaining characters more room to breathe.