• Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders review

ByKatarina Slater

Aug 26, 2019

The creative group Cardboard Citizens shares true stories of home homelessness and injustice through theatre. 

Their performance of Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders at the Fringe is an entirely immersive and educational experience, directly involving audience members in their play and helping people understand that every homeless person has a unique story. 

From the beginning, the audience is instantly drawn in, the fourth wall is immediately broken. The actors explain to the audience that the play will tell stories of individuals who were wrongly refused entry into the UK and became homeless as a consequence. The actors announce that all the stories told throughout the play are true, and that some details of stories have been pulled from court reports and newspapers.  

The fourth wall is broken a second time in order to connect with the audience when discussing how the general public tend  not to respect homeless people. Addressing the audience, the performers explain our behaviour psychologically: “they are physically beneath you”, and since we often  wonder “who is responsible for their plight? Is it themselves?”, only few of us make time to help them. 

The stories told switch rapidly, each story broken into several parts that are interrupted by a different tale. Each actor plays multiple roles, from a homeless person, to police, to members of the public. All four actors are immensely talented in each and every role, changing and adapting their physicality, voice, and facial expressions and still remaining true to character. 

One story tells the tale of Vernon Vanriel, the once-famous boxer who was wrongly refused re-entry into the UK from Jamaica – despite the fact he had lived in the UK since the age of six – simply due to a lack of documentation. Near the end of the performance, a projection screen appears upstage left in a very swift fashion, unnoticeable to the majority of the audience, displaying a real-life interview with Vanriel whilst he was homeless in Jamaica. There are many shocked gasps from the audience, as the ex-boxer is physically deteriorating, so thin he looks like just skin and bones.  

One scene is a conversation between two English men in the South of England; their view is that homeless people are nothing but scum who are addicted to drugs, have an array of mental health problems and have no one else to blame but themselves. Although a little over-the-top, this does represent the opinions of some real people, and this is why Cardboard Citizens is working hard to avoid this attitude. 

Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders tackles the intense and serious issues of homelessness, but skilfully manages to integrate some comedy into the piece to keep the audience engaged and avoid the piece being too distressing despite its subject matter. This play is a brilliantly immersive experience in which incredibly sad and almost unbelievable stories are told with grace, care and impeccable expertise. 


Cardboard Citizens: Bystandard was on at Summerhall – TechCube 0 

Run ended


Image: Cardboard Citizens present Bystanders at Summerhall 


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