European Adventures: exploring oppression through forum theatre

Posted on: 31 July 2012

Written by: Anonymous

While most of London was out waving their umbrellas at the Queen’s Jubilee Cardboard Citizens were scattered at airport arrival lounges across the capital ready to welcome learners from the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands. With the support of the European Lifelong Learning Fund, Adrian facilitated a week of forum theatre (in 5 languages). Our guests were all from theatre groups similar to Cardboard Citizens who explore homelessness and social exclusion through Europe.

We had the luxury of the Royal Foundation of St Katherine’s in Limehouse (a favourite hangout of the Queen Mum when it used to be run by the nuns!). St Katherine’s is now a very lovely conference centre, a real oasis of calm perched above the otherwise noisy mouth of the Rotherhithe tunnel and was the perfect environment to play and share and interpret each other’s stories.

Over the week language ceased to be a barrier to communication as participants took to devising in mixed language groups and quickly found universal images and narratives that they could all relate to. Techniques of Forum Theatre were explored and plenty of shared oppressions began to emerge. The group then voted in true European Union style on the 5 oppressions they wanted to develop into forum plays. The themes that emerged from the learners own oppressions were; the effects of substance misuse, the prejudice facing offenders on their release from prison, the mental health system and two strikingly different takes on abuse within the family unit. After each workshop we took our guests out to sample some of the cultural delights of the capital.

My highlight was a ‘gentle’ guided bike ride round the sights of Westminster and Covent Garden which turned into a surprising Olympic-style tour-de-Angleterre finishing in the early hours of the morning after every driver of public transport seemed to have shut up shop and gone home to bed. The Spanish and Portuguese definitely would have won the yellow jersey for their stamina on this particular outing. At the end of the week an invited audience came to watch the performances and we had some lively forum interventions. New friendships were forged. I could see so many windows being opened for people throughout the course. As people’s stories were represented and offered up for forum there was a palpable understanding and respect and a strong intention that even though we were from different countries we can come together to remedy injustice. Thank you to all who took part and helped out.

A special mention goes to Dave, Errol, John and Csilla for your support over the week and a massive round of applause to Cathy and Rosie for getting everyone there in one piece and at the right time. I hope we can repeat this as an annual event. We want to strengthen these new partnerships with organisations across Europe and the world that are exploring human concerns and inventing new ways to help ‘humanize humanity’.

Please check out the amazing work that is taking place all over Europe. Forum Theatre is a global force for change. Check out some of our European friends:


With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded