Down & Out in Paris and London

New Diorama Theatre / PIT / Greenwich Theatre in Association with the Pleasance

Pleasance Courtyard

From 05 August 2015 to 31 August 2015

Rating: *****

Review by Graeme Strachan

Although it borrows the name of Orwell's classic autobiographical novel about hardships and poverty, Down & Out in Paris and London is far more than that.

It draws from both Orwell's novel and from Polly Toynbee's 2003 book Hard Work—Life in Low Pay Britain, mirroring and contrasting the woes of those on low wages and unemployment.

We meet the bright and enthusiastic young Eric Blair, long before picking up the pen name of Orwell, who has sought excitement and viceral life in the dirty lodging houses of Paris. His drinking and cavorting with his fellow impoverished denizens turns sour when most of his money is stolen.

Concurrently, we see Polly Toynbee, modern-day journalist, go into self-enforced poverty and council housing to find material on a book. Through each story, we see the horrors of destitution and a bureaucratic state system, which cheats and hampers every attempt to thrive.

Neatly stepping from the streets of 20th century Paris to the pavements of 21st century London with the briefest manipulations of the staging, the play spins humour, tragedy and very real embodiments of soul-crushing woe as the the twin stories reinforce the message that nothing has really changed and that the human spirit will endure almost anything.