Bystanders begins with staging reminiscent of a police detective’s office – plain desks, a few chairs, and piles of boxes full of paperwork and evidence. This subtly adds support to the premise that, although performed by actors, this is a work based on the testimonies of real people—that Bystanders is, long-story-short, a work of 'verbatim theatre'. Except, after a deliberately flagged false start, we’re clearly told this isn’t the case.
Bystanders is a call to take homelessness more personally
All the stories making up Bystanders are true, and a few may even be familiar to the audience, given they made the news. But we’re reminded that, with just one exception, the creative and production team only spoke with one of the six people featured, relying for the rest on court reports, official documents and speculation and imagination. Do they – do we? – have a right to do the latter? Their assertion is a clear yes, if it ensures a degree of authenticity, showing how homelessness can bring people down in both spectacular and unspectacular ways.
Cast members Jake Good, Libby Liburd, Mark Locyer and Andre Skeete share the numerous roles, on occasions explaining that their characters are speaking in accents or foreign languages without trying to imitate them. They maintain a strong clarity throughout, despite the numerous scenarios and characters. If they play them broad on occasions, that’s not without effect—so used are we to Skeete playing former boxer Vernon, that it’s a genuine and humbling shock when we’re shown photographs of the real man. That’s important so that we’re reminded that these are real people, with real lives.
Brought into shape by director Adrian Jackson and dramaturge Sarah Woods, Bystanders is a call to take homelessness more personally. Indeed, we’re shown people doing just that – like Jenny, the good-natured staff member at Terminal 5, setting up a crowdfunding campaign to help a man get back to Greece. That these different stories entwine towards the end might feel like narrative expediency, but this is about showing how none of us are really bystanders.