Economical drama

Augusto Boal invented forum theatre, also known as the theatre of the oppressed, in which touring theatre companies go into communities to perform plays about an issue that affects, and in most cases, oppresses the community. The plays end badly, realistically in other words, leaving the bad guys in control and the community powerless to do anything about it. Then a “joker” (a facilitator from the theatre company) invites people to think up different endings — if the community had been better organised, or found themselves a spokesperson, or found strength in numbers by talking to neighbouring communities — and to come on stage and act out more positive outcomes.

It is a major player in giving voice to the voiceless, encouraging people first to imagine and then express what seemed unthinkable. As such it’s very interesting to Index on Censorship which in the main supports individuals who speak out in hostile environments, while Boal’s method in its more evolved form — legislative theatre — provides the means by which ordinary people can collectively speak truth to power.

Watching David Hare’s new play at the National TheatreThe Power of Yes made me think of the theatre of the oppressed. The story of the so-called death of capitalism, the four days in September 2008 when the banking world stopped breathing — was played out in front of the well-heeled community of central London — a community that is both oppressed by and complicit in the story.