Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders @ Summerhall

Cardboard Citizens' tribute to homeless people whose lives are destroyed by flippant acts of cruelty hits exactly the right note between poignancy and anger

Live Review by Eliza Gearty | 14 Aug 2019
  • Bystanders @ Summerhall

A former British boxer is exiled to Jamaica for thirteen years, where he starves on the streets, unable to return home. A man from Poland, sleeping rough in Benidorm, is bribed by a drunk stag party from Newcastle into tattooing the groom's name and address on his forehead for £89. A formely homeless man in Salisbury finds a discarded perfume bottle, and decides to give it to his lover as a gift; it turns out to be novichok poison, abandoned in a dustbin by Russian spies. 

These are just a few of the extrordinary – and true – stories presented to us by Cardboard Citizens in this angry, moving and powerful production by Adrian Jackson, that examines how careless acts of dehumanisation towards the homeless and other vulnerable members of society have disastrous consequences. We are the bystanders of the title – ready to oversee and ignore the cruelty and lack of dignity afforded to these individuals – but wider systems and organisations don't get a free pass either. The piece critiques the police and the home office, probing at why, for instance, the Windrush scandal transpired – or how it came to be that a homeless man was left to freeze to death on the doorstep of a police station, having been thrown out a few hours earlier by an officer who wanted to relax and watch a DVD

Presenting its audience with a succession of such stories, this part-vebatim account of so many people let down by the system and the public could have easily fallen into preachy or simply depressing territory. It's saved from all that by giving us glimpses of the humanity and humour that survive in even the bleakest of circumstances; Pericles Malagardis' devotion to his dog, Django, is conveyed by the company's decision to tell his story from the pet's imagined point of view. Vernon Vanriel, the former boxer, is able to revel in his glories and hold bureaucrats captivated with his powerful story-telling, even at his mentally weakest and most down-and-out. The decision to intersect the piece with footage of the real people only after these portrayals of them as fully fleshed characters, not just homeless case-in-points, is immensely moving.

Bystanders is an energetically performed and cleverly executed piece, reminding us that behind every statistic or news story there's a human being. 

Cardboard Citizens: Bystanders, Summerhall (Techcube 0), until 25 Aug (not 19), 11.30am, £10-12