In a timely feat that bears striking relevance, Cardboard Citizens has produced a compelling play depicting the hell of Margaret Thatcher’s creation. Benefit, a carefully crafted and harrowing story about three interwoven lives locked in David Cameron’s Britain, came to Z-Arts’ 225-seat theatre in a way no other production has.
“We make stories that aren’t often heard or seen”, Benefit’s Facilitator and Associate Artist at Cardboard Citizens’ Terry O’Leary prepped the audience – of whom the majority were well-acquainted with the current Benefit system and sanctions. Given the suffering and despair the Welfare system inflicts on some of the most vulnerable in society, it is disappointing that this play is not one of many exhibiting the appalling practice.
Cameron, a Thatcherite in every regard, has drip-fed his callous blood into the system. This is evidenced in the play by the Job Centre supervisor at the other side of the desk, or the CV Writing Course instructor woman – both of whom seem to have had their humanity surgically removed. This goes on as desperate Rosa (played by Carly-Jayne Hutchinson) heartbreakingly receives no help.
The stage, a one-wall cube with LED-fitted frames is simple and bare yet somehow enhances the proximity of the characters’ stories to all our lives. Using chairs as their only props for desks, beds and counters, Director Adrian Jackson’s set is poignantly emblematic of the furnishings that the sanctioned have – essentially nothing – which leaves the characters’ stories as the only focal point.
Written by Sarah Woods, Benefit’s ingenious dialogue that occasionally switches to gibberish or incoherent sentences (The Personal Incapacity Payment Decision Maker on the phone to Patrick, affectionately played by Herman Stephens), shows the struggle and despair that victims of the system go through when trying to make sense of what they are being told.
Having taken only 4-weeks to come to fruition, Benefit is touring the UK, with St. Helens being the next stop. If not for the show itself or its educational benefits, go and watch the play for the experiment that comes after the 1-hour play. Audience members pick any part of the play in which they would have acted differently, the effect of which would result in a positive outcome for any of the four characters on stage.
Cardboard Citizens employs actors that have experienced homelessness as a result of the system at some point, which makes the acting particularly permeating. A must-see for all: particularly the Thatcherites.
TNT Entertainment Yasin Chinembiri