The Listening Room, Poole Lighthouse and on tour

THE Sterling Studio at Poole’s Lighthouse was packed when Crowded Room brought its touring play The Listening Room to Dorset.

It’s an intense and thought-provoking piece about restorative justice, and one which is increasingly relevant to all sections of society in 21st century Britain. Five actors (one also the writer) perform three unconnected stories. At every performance the roles are allocated blind by members of the audience, so there is no telling in advance who will play what.  At Poole, the best known cast member, Cathy Tyson, was an Asian boy who beat up a stranger with a baseball bat. Writer and Crowded Room co-artistic director Harriet Madelen played a black boy who took a swing at a stranger, who fell and cracked his skull on the pavement and died.

Bruce Kitchener and Archie Backhouse played the parents of a young man attacked on a night out with his brother, left on the road and run over by a car, whose life support system was switched off when hope had evaporated.   Mark Knightly (the other Crowded Room co-director) was the victim left alive.

The stories they tell are urgent, frightening, recognizable and poignant. This is a plea for a different way to view crime and punishment, exchanging redemption for retribution. It won’t work for everyone. It will work for some. It might just work for a meaningful number of criminals who have turned the wrong way, and for victims who want to understand.

Played against a black wall on which the actors left their emulsion imprints,  a strikingly simple and powerful design by Georgia de Grey, the show is directed by Max Barton. It is touring the country, with some performances in theatres and arts centres and as many others in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.

It’s an extraordinary, shocking and view-changing evening of “reality” theatre, where the word is not debased and manipulated as it so often is in mass appeal television programmes, with all their canned gasps and partisan preferences.


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