Survivor Show in the Borsod Wilderness

While different television programmes entertain viewers with various games set in egzotic locations that have nothing to do with real  life challenges, during an interactive theatre play titled „Sociopoly” we can get a glimpse into the situation, the challenges and decisions of people living in severe poverty. So we dont need to go as far as the jungles of South America if we want to try ourselves in merciless life situations – at least for the duration of a game – that we mostly have no clue about. 

Just as with the topic of raising children, we often feel that we’re experts when it comes to the affairs of people living in severe poverty – everyone seems to have some advice up their sleeve for the poor, just like for new mums: What matters the most is that you pay your bills! You can save a lot if you go shopping at the beginning of the month! The most important are the education and the clothing of your children! The only question for those affected is which piece of advice to follow when they do not have enough money for either of them. As spectators and players at the interactive theatre play of  GYERE (COME)and Mentőcsónak (Life boat) we get to live through an entire month in the shoes of the poor, making decisions, and looking for the best strategy that should enable them to make a decent living.

The interactive theatre play created based on a board game takes us to a small town in Northern Hungary. There are no job opportunities – only public work, or occasional jobs. Of course, being a public worker is a privilege, which, just like the provision of certain benefits, is decided by the mayor. So it’s a good idea to be on good terms with him, just as with the only shopkeeper in town, or the loan shark, who is happy to loan you money with a 100% interest rate. The audience take part in the game as the members of four families, and get into one difficult situation after the other, and can only choose between bad or worse. If once in a blue moon they have some occasional work, should they pay half of their pay as tax, or should they rather risk getting caught or not being paid by their boss? If they choose to go black, they can earn as much as a hefty HUF 20.000 a week, with 10-12 hours of work every day. Are they going to buy baby formula from that little money, or do they choose to run the risk of having their child taken away from them due to insufficient care? Unexpected opportunities also come their way sometimes – for instance they find something on the street that they can sell – but most of the time they are only faced with unexpected expenses. Players will sooner or later ralise that they are unable to plan for the long term, that it’s not possible to pay everything at the beginning of the month, that they would definitely end up starving if they always chose the lawful path, and that in a desperate situation even gambling may seem as a logical decision.

only one player gets to wear the public workers’s vest

The characters that appear in the play – the mayor, the entrepreneur, the pubkeeper lady, the postwoman, the teacher, the nurse, the young Roma guy struggling to survive – are all played by only three actors (Anna Hay, Bálint Jaskó and the playwright and director of the play: Gábor Fábián). The play is conducted by László Bass sociologist who gives a short summary of the social facts related to the given issue after each situation or decision made. This way we get to know that the failure of the character that reports the local loan shark, for example, is not a rare event.  Because in the past four years, since usury has been prohibited by law, only   30-40 out of the 800 reports made about loan sharks have made it to court, because the citizens who make the reports are in a dependent situation and are usually forced to withdraw their report. So the hierarchy that resembles feudal times, where  the poor can only expect to get the short end of the stick and where mayors, shopkeepers and loan sharks can exploit them without limits, cannot be expected to change easily.

The audience, being active participants during the play and making decisions as the members of one of the families, on the one hand, can experience the struggle for survival on their own skin, where they can never feel safe, and where it’s impossible to live a life that is impeccably  lawful or that caters perfectly for the developmental needs of children. On the other hand, the audience also has to realise that indeed, there are people who are responsible for the misery of those living in severe poverty. However, the only viable solution can be holding the local power figures accountable, and the substantive development of towns and villages, instead of blaming the underprivileged.

The loan shark is always „happy to help”

The performers lighten up the heavy topics and situations with humour. The actors, jumping from one role into the other, play each character in a comical way. As no one can escape being caricatured, be it the mayor or the young Roma guy, the style does not feel perverse. And humour is indispensable for the audience to be able to have a laugh even between two heavy decisions; because the play and the game paint a rather dark picture of reality, which we may not even be able to take in and digest without some humour.

The play has been performed nearly 80 times throughout the country. Sociopoly is now performed by the Miskolc National Theatre and a Nyíregyháza-based formation as well, beside Mentőcsónak.