Down and Out in Paris and London @ The Pleasance Courtyard (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015) Review

Down and Out in Paris and London is a brand new theatrical take on George Orwell’s autobiographical novel, with a modern twist. It is in collaboration with PIT and Greenwich Theatre, with supporting funds from Arts Council England. Written and directed by the New Diorama Theatre’s artistic director, David Byrne and co-directed by Kate Stanley, it is now experiencing sell out performances at the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh.

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The spirit of the play has a revolutionary prerogative; it compares the frustration and hardship of George Orwell’s 1920’s book Down and Out in Paris and London, with British based Polly Toynbee’s 2003 book, Hard Work. In both cases the writer has assiduously set off to experience life with the poor, in order to have something to write about. Both come from affluent backgrounds, which naturally put flaws in the experience, as they are not living the complete “real-deal” of the experiment. However, it is a clever comparison to make. The play highlights the pressure of the poor in our society today; a society that, through mass corporal organisations and worldwide chain companies, the human rights of the impoverished worker is reduced to mere indifference and a shameful invisibility, under the disguised cloak of uniform.

The contrast of the two different worlds is clear; stage lights bluntly cut from the bright wash millennium set; which alienates the audience to the stage, to 1920’s Paris, where a warm brown light welcomes the audience in. The acting is very different between the two comparisons; Orwell’s world has almost cartoon like caricatures; the French landlady and her tenants have shallow yet enticing lures. Yet the cordial familiarity between their characters, support George Orwell, who is played by Richard Delaney, whereas Toynbee’s character becomes rather estranged to the scenes and stage. Her disposition is subdued in comparison to Orwell; and seems less evolved, less developed. In turn, it is harder to sympathise with the character, although she undoubtedly holds the pinnacle point of the story. The character needs more depth; the alienated relationships she experiences onstage do not help us, as the audience, get to know her; her monologues are not character driven, but rather fact driven. There is a lot of pushing out statistics of Job Seekers Allowance, minimum wage and stingy governmental loans, which all serve the story, but distinctly there is some missing of emotional intent there, which there needs to be to make this character absolute.

The play is still in the making, however there are some beautiful scene transitions, which combine the similarity between the two different life styles and experiences; Orwell’s world touches Toynbee’s through the sharing of a pen. This puts into perspective the connection between the characters and the parallel hardships of poverty; both share similar difficulties being at the bottom of the social ladder, although Toynbee’s is considerably more regimented in an alienated society. This tying provides a charming symmetry of the two different worlds, an engaging moment, both in stagecraft and the honest communication between Orwell and Toynbee.

Great character varieties decorate the stage neatly. There are stunning performances from Richard Delaney and Stella Taylor, and the cast manage to bring high energy into every scene, which is gripping. Adversely, Toynbee’s story feels secondary. This is simply due to the fact she has no one to relate deeply to, or personally; too much information is read out, rather than felt out. But I believe with further development this hitch will be quickly fixed.

It is a very promising show, with much to say about society and our role (or insignificance) to it. If this show allows itself to develop and keeps finding the thread of the argument, which it wants to say, it can be a very strong piece; it has the pleasant air of unrest about it. 3.5/5

Review written by RATHE.

Down and Out in Paris and London is currently showing at the Pleasance Courtyard until Monday 31st August, as part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information on the production, visit here…

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