Off I headed to Aldgate East on Wednesday night to see Three Blind Mice, I stopped at a cashpoint to get some money out to pop in the donations bucket for Cardboard Citizens and was amused to be given the following options by the machine with regards which language I’d like; “English”, or “Cockney”!! In hindsight I wished I’d pushed the cockney option, perhaps next time.
The Toynbee Studios was heaving, a tangible atmosphere as we mingled prior to going into the theatre. I was amazed at what an amazing space/theatre the Toynbee Studios is. London has many theatrical gems tucked away in all sorts of places. This is a fabulous theatre, which I’m pleased to say was packed. I recognised a few faces in the audience, they were cast members of the previous Cardboard Citizen’s event Life ‘aint no Musical that I saw earlier this year. Adrian Jackson (Artistic Director) greeted us all and informed us this was the 30th out of 46 performances of this play. It’s been touring hostels prior to it’s two night at the Toynbee Studios and it’ll then finish off touring.
Forum Theatre is a slightly different form of theatre, developed by Augusto Boal. Cast Member Terry O’Leary explained the concept to us. It’s easy to understand, the play is performed straight through. Then we voted on which character/scene we wanted to focus on. The cast then started performing again but at ANY moment a person in the audience can shout out “STOP!”. The audience member then gets up and acts out how they would do things differently.
The play itself struck a chord with me as I have a close family member who lives in social housing and they had their own problems with mice and rats, just like these characters. We followed the mice as they worked their way through three flats and the human inhabitants they found in each one, and the issues each was facing. Cardboard Citizens felt it would be useful to have a play that looked at the issues people face when they go into their first house. Often this is when some of their real troubles begin. Bola Agbaje’s script contained the right amount of drama and fun and the cast performed superbly well the multiple roles they each took on. Jonathan Whitty, Shara Ismail, Helen Donoghue, Andre Skeete and Terry O’Leary, gave compelling and powerful performances.
Jonathan Whitty and Andre Skeete
Then it was on to the Forum Theatre part, what an experience! Again I must say how impressed I was by the cast. They not only perform a play they then have to improvise it with strange people on stage with them trying to change the play’s action. Their improvisational skills are some of the best I’ve seen. The suggestions from the audience ranged from the insightful, helpful, not so helpful and frankly hilarious. My personal favourite was a suggestion to take two of the protagonists onto the Jeremy Kyle show! Despite the serious issues being discussed, I found the Forum Theatre section to be absolutely joyous. I was surprised how we all engaged and Terry O’Leary’s experience as a Forum Theatre Joker showed. The Joker role acts as “chairman” of the Forum Theatre section – no mean feat with all that’s going on!
I left with an insight into the struggles that people face when they go into social housing and realising how powerful Forum Theatre can be in helping people look at consequences, actions and how they can change the course of their lives.
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Terry O'Leary - There's a Rat in the Flat!