4 stars ****
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
IF BRITAIN IS ENDURING a serious cost-of-living crisis – and the statistics suggest that it is – then it’s not an issue that has made much impact on this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. One exception, though, is this passionate and thoughtful show by Paper Birds of Leeds, playing to packed houses at the Pleasance Dome, which begins by reflecting a range of verbatim interviews with people living on low incomes, but finally homes in on just one character, a 28-year-old single mum called Sally with a son she adores, but without the means to give him the material things that our society considers “normal”.
The show’s playful, slightly nursery-like style sometimes grates against the harshness and importance of the stories being told; Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh are touching and effective in the role of Sally and several other characters, while Shane Durrant lurks under a bunk-bed with a keyboard like some irritating children’s television presenter.
Despite these tonal dissonances though – and a venue in which large parts of the show’s visual imagery are invisible to most of the audience – there’s no resisting the passion with which this young company, dedicated to radical verbatim theatre, exposes the painful lies about poverty in this country that make the lives of people on low incomes so unbearable. From the myth of our “generous” benefits system to the big lie that being in work means earning a living wage, Paper Birds take apart the falsehoods which have helped drive recent changes to the social security system, every one of them helping to create a world of hidden suffering. “I’ve seen well-dressed people opening the cans we give them and eating the food in the car park, because they’re starving,” says a woman staffing a food bank. “Trouble is, in a country like Britain now, you can’t tell who’s hungry, just by looking at them. Can’t tell at all.”