On Tuesday 14th of October 2008, I saw Cardboard Citizens a new forum Theatre Company, perform the "Help" at St Mary's University, written by Sarah Woods Directed by Adrian Jackson & Gavin McAlinden.
The Help is about three different characters whose stories are intertwined with one another, these of which are inspired by real life events. A Filipino migrant worker, a 16 year old boy out of care and a hostel worker who is overwhelmed by the work, all of which build up a play, that allows forum theatre to flourish.
The play evolves around the main platform which is a hostel, where the weird, angry, wonderful and authority characters are exposed through the use of exaggeration which creates a simple parody for the purpose of comedy, but at the same time a sense of raw truth is also exposed. Which allows the audience into a everyday hostel atmosphere. This is proven at the end of the play during the forum exercise where one of the actors reveals that the authority figure of the Hostel is very close to real life.
I thought the production was well structured, it showed a clear understanding where the story was aiming to go. One of the techniques that enhanced this understanding was the role of the joker, this particularly made the story run smoothly, but also hinted to the audience where the forum theatre could take place.
Another aspect that I thought was very successful was the use of puppetry, I felt that this technique was a Brechtian approach, I thought the use of puppetry fully advanced the story telling, but also helped in creating the alienation effect, the reason I believe this is because; for example when Roina's daughter was played by a headless puppet which was being manipulated by one of the actors, I felt sympathetic towards her "the daughter" but than I snapped out of it as I realised it was just a puppet.I think the use of puppetry helped to emotionally capture the audience, as the actors believed so much in the puppets and even though they were not fantastically trained actors they were able to capture their audience. I believe the only thing that caused us to snap out of it, was the style/genre which was clearly exposed, but the irony of it all, was that it was all based on a true story. Which made me compliment the production even more, as I felt that a particular style of theatre was smartly used not only to entertain, but also softly putting a message across to the audience.
In addition I thought the acting ability was not fully trained, but I thought this did not matter as I got used to it during the play. I thought some characters where presented better than others, one of my favorite characters was one hostel resident who had to get reminded to take his pills all the time, this particular character was played very purely, but well put across and easily understood. Also the bag lady was a useful character and well played as it helped to link the scenes, and put a homeless flavour across which I think was very well achieved.
Finally I thought that the forum theatre should have taken longer as I felt it dragged on for too long on the passport scene, I felt it should have developed a lot more as I wanted to interrogate Roina's story deeper. On the other hand I thought the discussion about homeless life was a lot more interesting and raw, as I found out the price of living in a Hostel was quite expensive, this of course being such a simple information which got a domineering reaction from the audience, as a simple fact of the price of leaving in a Hostel, made me realise that research is very important in forum theatre, this not only gains an awful lot of respect from the audience but also brakes down the barrier of offence, as it proves to people who have a different circumstance to your self, that you respect their circumstance and understand their struggle, and getting the facts right shows commitment to understand ones situation, which makes one open up to someone that does not particularly share the same situation to them.