Food Bank As It Is @ CentrE17

Part of CentrE17’s inaugural season It’s the End of the World As We Know It, Food Bank As It Is is a verbatim piece based on the experiences of food bank manager Tara Osman. The play aims to raise awareness of the poverty faced by people in the UK today and the current ill-equipped benefit system that appears to be failing, forcing people to use food banks. The show is full of upsetting truths and shocking statistics, and with the post-show debate that encourages a dialogue, it is an important addition to this uncomfortable discussion.

Before the show begins, Osman makes a quick announcement to explain that the stories reflected on stage are real. For her, the piece is a way to challenge the system until something is done about it. As the play goes on, we are introduced to many characters. From a single mum who has run out of hope, to a stroke survivor who is forced to use the food bank, to a young man who hasn’t eaten for days because of a sanction on his benefits – a genuinely heartfelt performance from Daniel Kelly. In the post-show discussion after, it’s evident that half of the viewers are shocked by what they have seen, but for the other half, it’s actually more of a reiteration of things they already know.

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Suzy Jacobsen portrayal’s of Osman is sympathetic, and with such a heavy theme, it’s nice to see her bring a touch of humour to the role too. It’s clear that Osman is someone who goes above and beyond what is required of her when interacting with those who come to the food bank. From the chat after, it’s encouraging to hear her, and many others in the audience, say that most individuals who do work for places like food banks, as well as local authorities and jobcentres, do try to help as best they can, but that the flaw lies in the system as a whole. Osman explores this more specifically in the form of a dream sequence, where the performers present the Milgrem experiment – the idea that people will always follow orders from authority figures, even if it goes against their conscience. While this is an interesting way to examine the welfare system, the sequence feels clumsy and without prior knowledge of the experiment, this section becomes confusing. Once it was explained in the post-show discussion, however, it made more sense.

Food Bank As It Is is not just a way for Osman to share these stories, but more an engaging way to talk about a topic that affects all of society. The company has a five-point manifesto that they believe can help create change, and are touring the show to spread the word, and even performed it at Westminster. The cast is incredibly engaging, and there is an especially exceptional performance from Lawrence O’Connor, which I won’t spoil. Even though the piece has deeply upsetting stories and puts harsh realities to the forefront,  in the end, you leave feeling positive and determined to help to create change.

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