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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Shorts Night @ CentrE17

CentrE17, Walthamstow’s new performance space, opened its doors in July 2017 and is currently in the midst of its inaugural season. This politically-charged festival of work entitled It’s the End of the World As We Know It, brings together comedy, theatre and film to explore current issues. Their Shorts Night puts together four short pieces of work covering the topics of farming, modern-day anxieties, suicide, female sexuality and power. With their relevant topics, each piece is relatable and sympathetic, while some are more engaging than others.

The first of the shorts is Legendairy by SpeakUp Theatre, which starts off as a seemingly innocent stand-up routine with Cassie the cow (Isabelle Kabban). The concept of a cow doing anecdotal comedy is hilarious, but as the story goes on, and the realities of Cassie and her friends’ lives are detailed, it becomes increasingly disturbing. Legendairy is a unique way to comment on the meat industry that is executed well by the company.

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Rosa Caines’ one-woman monologue Balloon is the second short of the night. A young, pregnant woman is talking to her unborn child about the current state of the world, trying to figure out the point in it all. While some very real subjects are discussed, like global warming, war, austerity, and technology, the surreal elements of the piece are jarring and feel futile within the tone of the short as a whole. It is well-performed by Caines’ though, who is funny, empathetic and enjoyable.

In the third short Over Soon, a young man is battling depression and contemplating suicide. Although Dom Luck’s performance is unanimated which consequently feels unengaging, his writing is beautifully poetic and full of powerfully evocative language.

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The final short, written by Eleanor Tindall, stands out the most. Before I Was a Bear is a story based on Greek mythology that details the reason a young woman has been turned into a bear. Callisto (Lucy Mangan) enjoys spending time with a married actor, but when the tabloids get wind of their “affair” his wife eventually finds out and turns Callisto into a great beast. Mangan’s performance is incredibly engaging and she has powerful storytelling abilities. She is instantly likeable from her first appearance on stage in a comically over-the-top bear costume. Although the story is funny, it’s more of a deep analysis of how women are treated in the media. Some see her as a temptress, while others label her a victim, but she is neither – completely content with the arrangement she’s had. With its interesting point of view, Before I Was a Bear is a short but sweet analysis of female sexuality and how it is perceived.

Overall Shorts Night was an enjoyable way to experience four new pieces of work exploring current and relevant topics. I look forward to seeing more work as part of this new season, and what else CentrE17 have to offer in the future.

CentrE17’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It season runs until 27th April.