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BENEFIT– Pleasance Theatre, London.

Benefit“Porn is capitalism with its cock out”. Sarah Woods’ Benefit tells three interlocking stories of the people left behind by the Conservatives’ idea of a Big Society. After a quick snippet into lives that seem all too common in this age, Cardboard Citizens’ use their signatory Forum Theatre to allow the audience have the opportunity to get involved in the piece.

The harsh glare from the lightbox set, and the dull blue office chairs that end up almost consuming the stage, make it a real assault on the senses. The characters themselves are already distressing, but the repetition of stories as one flows into another, as well as the set, makes it all the more affronting.

The tales themselves aren’t overly complex, but the emotional performances from all actors, particularly Herman Stevens as Patrick, are so moving that the content is less important. Woods’ script makes all of them seem ordinary and somewhat familiar in their own ways. During forum, the audience is asked how many of us know someone on a zero hours contract, in a room of diverse people it was surprising to see how many raised their hand.

Sometimes with theatre like this you can leave feeling depressed about what you’ve just seen, but without being given the tools to enact any change. This is certainly not what comes out of a Cardboard Citizens’ piece. Interacting with fellow audience members to discuss the pieces, we can pick one of the characters’ to redo, in the hope that we can change the ending.

The actors are easily able to adapt and improvise with their new onstage partners, but what is more interesting than moving the scenes about, is the dialogue it creates in the auditorium. Subjects like pornography, mental health issues and relationships are thrown around, discussed and debated in a really healthy way. It’s inspiring to be in a room of people who hold similar views, or express ideas you hadn’t thought about before. Theatre provides the perfect space for discussing and then effecting change and Cardboard Citizens’ certainly remind us of this.

Each evening the second act will be entirely different, so you may well be tempted to come back another night of their tour to see how a new location, a new theatre and a new group of people react to these really important performances.

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Reviewed on 04/03/2015

By Joanna Trainor
@mintpixeljo

3rd – 8th March 2015, before touring
Pleasance Theatre, Islington, London, N1.

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