How Cardboard Citizens is using Forum Theatre to engage audiences with the housing crisis

Cardboard Citizens are a theatre company I really admire and like to follow their work with interest.  Their mission is to “tell stories that need to be told. Stories from other worlds, stories that help their tellers get a handle on their lives.”  They have been making theatre with and for homeless people for 25 […]

Cardboard Citizens are a theatre company I really admire and like to follow their work with interest.  Their mission is to “tell stories that need to be told. Stories from other worlds, stories that help their tellers get a handle on their lives.”  They have been making theatre with and for homeless people for 25 years.  During this time they have ensured that issues around poverty, homelessness and the housing crisis remain firmly in the spotlight.

Their new production ‘Cathy’ was inspired by Ken Loach’s iconic television play Cathy Come Home which was first broadcast 50 years ago.    The first stop on the England-wide tour of Cathy was The Pleasance Theatre in Islington.  The play powerfully explored homelessness today through a performance informed by firsthand testimonies and research much like that of Ken Loach’s original piece.  The acting by the four cast members was incredibly moving.


As part of the work the audience was asked to feedback how the performance made us feel; frustrated, angry, emotional and one member of the audience ‘skirted around’ feelings of guilt of his relative wealth.

What makes this production different is that Cardboard Citizens uses a really exciting and interactive approach to theatre storytelling – Forum Theatre  involving and engaging the audience in retelling the story we had just witnessed.  It allowed the audience and cast to explore the issues highlighted in the play and the potential solutions that could be explored in tackling the UK’s housing crisis and widespread risk of homelessness directly.  As we were invited to contribute to the storytelling process, offer solutions or way we might act differently in the same situation the audience literally replaced the actor in particular scenes to offer their own narrative.  The magic of Forum  Theatre is that as the audience changes each night, new perspectives will be introduced and every performance will be different.

“‘Cardboard Citz are pushing the boundaries of what needs to be said & opening up the discussion to people who can make a difference” – A Younger Theatre

“Thank you for an incredibly moving performance of last night. Important, inspirational and thought-provoking theatre.” – Audience Member

Cardboard Citizens is using theatre to challenge narratives and find solutions for difficult social issues.  A few months ago I saw their production at the Barbican Theatre retelling Cathy Come Home with a cast incorporating those with firsthand experience of homelessness followed by a Q and A session with Ken Loach.

At the Pleasance I spotted one of the actresses and went over to congratulate her for her performance   Her response was an unexpected   ‘Thank you for noticing me’  which really made me stop and think.

This simple comment had reminded me that we must never, ever  stop noticing what’s going on around us and the people who are the fabric of our society.

Thank you to all the team at Cardboard Citizens for ensuring that these stories keep being told.

Cathy will be touring theatres, prisons and hostels until February 2017. I’d definitely recommend catching a performance if you can, many venues are already sold out. And do support Cardboard Citizens by spreading the word!

How can we help you tell your storiessounddelivery helps charities and socially minded organisations tell their stories with impact.  We support people with first hand experience of social issue to share their experiences to change narratives, challenge stigmas and change systems.  You can find out more on our website.

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