Produced by Cardboard Citizens Reviewed at Toynbee Studios
It's difficult to rate a piece of Forum Theatre. After all, the success of a session depends largely on the calibre of audience contributions, and in this case we were watching a showcase as opposed to a 'real-life' production (Led Easy is usually performed in hostels and day-centres).
So the five stars awarded here are not just for the high quality of both David Watson's script and the performances, but for the overall work of Adrian Jackson's Cardboard Citizens, a theatre company that must surely rank as being amongst the most genuinely life-changing in the UK.
For the uninitiated, Forum Theatre, the brainchild of Brazilian practitioner Augusto Boal (who died earlier this year), works along the following lines: a 'Joker' introduces and narrates the action of a drama, which typically depicts a protagonist in trouble. Afterwards, the audience is invited by the Joker to analyse the narrative, and think where decisions could have been made differently, before the play is re-run so that volunteers can stop the action and play out alternative scenarios.
In an age where 'experiential' and interactive theatre have become de rigueur, the Forum technique is a tried and tested model, and having participated in several sessions myself, I can attest to its effectiveness. The key is that it sparks genuine debate, whilst also empowering its audience. I've never once watched a session that's been short of willing participants, and the evening I attended at Toynbee Studios this week was no different.
Three dramas were played out – the first involving 16-year-old Leo (Andre Skeete), a graffiti artist who wants to be a man but slides into crime, the second centring on Emma (Jennifer Lewin), a graduate wannabe do-gooder, and the third examining the sad tale of depressive drug-user Eve (Johanna Allitt) as she struggles to be reunited with her daughter after leaving prison.
Written with clarity and humour by David Watson (Leo's Mum can “throw her slippers round corners”), the narratives are easy to follow, though the points of potential improvement by no means easy to spot.
After a vote (initiated by our excellent Joker Terry O'Leary), we decided to focus on Eve's story, and a handful of audience members got up to change the action – the primary points of focus being her experiences with the probationary services and her decision not to stay at a night shelter.
The conclusions drawn - such as that rehousing help must be sought many weeks before an inmate leaves prison and that rehabilitation help is a legal right - were inciteful to some, potentially life-saving for others.