Down & Out In Paris And London
3 stars ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
THEY HAVE one of the best ideas for a show on this year’s Fringe, the alliance of London-based companies behind this fascinating attempt to link George Orwell’s experience of writing about poverty in Paris in the 1930’s, with the journalist Polly Toynbee’s more recent studies of life on low pay – and on the dole – in the contemporary Britain of benefit sanction and zero hours contracts.
Adapted from the original texts by David Byrne, and co-directed by Byrne and Kate Stanley, the show features a cast of six, and shows huge ingenuity in moving fluidly between the two tales. Some of the staging, particularly of Orwell’s experiences in his surreal Paris rooming-house, is little short of inspired, and its theme – of growing inequality sanctioned by increasingly savage attitudes to those who find themselves in poverty – is perhaps the most timely, and certainly one of the most significant, on this year’s Fringe.
Something comes adrift, though, in the show’s acting style, which ranges from a slightly inappropriate historical jokiness in the Orwell sequences, to a heavily flat-footed political earnestness in portraying Polly Toynbee’s devastating observations of contemporary Britain. The factual material that supports this show is superb and essential, the elements of an interesting staging are there. But the relationship between the actors and the audience needs to be stripped of any trace of a Fringe-style yearning to amuse, and give a strong dose of Brechtian hardness, maturity, and unwillingness to compromise, for this show to achieve anything like its full potential impact.