Review: Bystanders

A powerful polemic about homelessness that both impresses and angers

★★★★
theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Bystanders by The Other Richard
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Published 07 Aug 2019

Right-on outrage is easy to manufacture, but this sophisticated diatribe against society’s mistreatment of the people on its margins bides its time, carefully building the case for our collective failure on this issue.

Bystanders is always one step ahead of its audience: sometimes confusing as it weaves together its tapestry of six disparate stories, sometimes wrong-footing as it pokes at the problems with the very techniques it employs. You’re drawn in by the shifting puzzle, satisfied to see the threads come together by the end. For that reason we won’t spoil the tales the four besuited actors tell, suffice to say that they are all unusual, ripped-from-the-headlines cases that have homelessness at their heart.

At times this show feels like journalism – with verbatim interviews sprinkled here and there; at others like fanciful drama – with pleasingly absurd points of view added to the mix. But the team circle their thesis with confident purpose and impressive energy until it is impossible to dismiss. A stage, like a busy councillor’s office—whiteboards, screens and boxes—adds to the sense of research completed; the clutter testifying to the difficulty of keeping all the various strands and voices together. Cardboard Citizens have been at this for 25 years – and it shows. This is superior agitprop theatre and an urgent call to action.