Patrick Morris, director of The Great Austerity Debate, tells us about the show.
We are a Cambridge based theatre company and are presenting The Great Austerity Debate at the Old Fire Station in Oxford on 9th October. It is a forum theatre piece of work, in which audiences watch a play for 50 minutes and then are invited to help re-write the story of the play by suggesting different courses of action for the characters and even seeing them played out by the actors. The forum is a way of imagining different futures for the characters and – perhaps – for ourselves.
Austerity is an obvious but almost impossible choice to be the subject of a play. Obvious because, up until Brexit, it dominated political, economic and social life in the UK. Almost impossible because, now, it is just part of our lives, part of the fabric of our world and therefore hard to pin down. But it has had clear, critical and evidential effects, particularly upon those who are most vulnerable and least financially resilient, so we at Menagerie theatre company, collaborated with 2 researchers from the University of Cambridge, Mia Gray and Susan Smith, who are both researching austerity within the Department of Geography. And out of this collaboration came our project.
Forum theatre is an ideal way of engaging audiences in a creative social experience. It goes one step further than presenting a play about the issue. It actually involves the audience in re-writing the story of the play they have just seen. It highlights the potential for different courses of action, different choices to be made, even by characters who may feel completely powerless to effect change. It’s incredibly effective at generating ideas which can be played out by audience members and the performers. As such, it is simultaneously entertaining, playful and transformative, and makes every performance completely unique.
As the writer / director, I set myself the challenge of writing a piece which could then be routinely taken apart and re-written by different audiences. Working in a forum piece certainly teaches you humility, because the fun is in deliberately creating moments which different audiences can choose to pick apart. You are always aware that the script and the ultimate performance is there to provoke an audience to WANT to change the story, to NEED to change it.
I wanted the central character to be someone who really struggles and who loses that struggle. She works, she does the best she can for her children, but the sums do not add up and she is constantly vulnerable to disaster. She doesn’t have the time or energy to imagine different possibilities, which is where the audience come in during the forum part of the evening. And I would like to attract audiences who can identify with this central character’s hardships. I would also like to attract audiences who are active within their community, students, trade union members, food bank volunteers, people of faith and others who in some way are witness to the sharp end of austerity. However, it’s important to say that although the subject is serious and emotional, the event is entertaining, playful and creative.
The Great Austerity Debate is here Tuesday 9 October.