Review: Bystanders at Summerhall
5★★★★★

Bystanders is an assured, humane, and brutal play. A ‘playful’ look at the lives and deaths of Britain’s homeless, it tells their stories with dignity and very dark humour. The focus is less on the ‘victims’ than the bystanders who witness them – in all their kindness and cruelty. 

The storytelling is fabulously innovative. The 2018 death of Pericles Malagardis stands out. After a messy break-up, ‘Peri’ fell on hard times, living first in his car, then sleeping rough for five years. Charismatic, he befriended staff at Heathrow T5 who crowd-funded £6000 to give him a new start in Greece where his son lived. The events are narrated by a Peri’s beloved dog, Django, performed with considered innocence by Lockyer. 

Only weeks away from leaving, Malagardis, who wore no shoes, was hospitalised with a foot infection. Django was taken to a police kennel in Uxbridge. Once discharged Peri headed straight to pick him up. The policeman on duty refused to release the dog till morning, and kicked Peri outside for the night. The 63-year-old died of hypothermia. The six grand paid for the funeral. 

Similar backstories are told concurrently, about Dawn Sturges, who was killed by Novichok after her partner found the perfume bottle discarded by Russian spies, and a Windrush victim, former boxer Vernon Vanriel, who advised the production.

Cardboard Citizens are an innovative company who’ve devised shows with and about homeless people since ‘91. Writer-director Adrian Jackson punches hard on the nose of mawkish sentimentality. The actors – Jake Goode, Libby Liburd, Mark Lockyer, and Andre Skeete – all have experience of homelessness.

It’s an uncomfortable, highly entertaining show about a problem that’s in all our faces. In 2017, 557 homeless people died on Britain’s streets. This profound production does more than present the facts; it’s a restless exploration of where responsibility lies. 

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