Broke sells itself as a collection of dramatised verbatim interviews tied together less narratively than thematically, the exchanges centring on the financial circumstances of their interlocutors. In keeping with its devised origins, there is a distinct playfulness to the way in which the performers move in and out of their roles, as what begins as an interview question from one actor morphs imperceptibly into a testimony of her own unscalable debt.

Broke assembled some intriguing material about the financial crisis, but did frustratingly little to piece it together.

The improvisational, collaborative nature of the genre presents a problem for Jemma McDonnell, Kylie Walsh and Shane Durrant, the trio behind The Paper Birds theatre company and the stars of its latest offering: namely one of coherence. The result is a bewildering illogic that makes links between scenes uncertain and often seemingly arbitrary.

As a show which takes up the tribulations of the credit-crunched and cash-strapped, it is unsurprising that Jemma McDonnell, Artistic Director of The Paper Birds, prides Broke on having a “limited budget…no big cast, no fancy set, back to the basics of myself, Kylie and Shane in a room”. In places the use of tech – either simply to identify speakers, or more abstractly to illustratively accompany the recordings of children – was both creative and effective. Sometimes the most pleasing effects were the most low-tech, in particular McDonnell’s use of sweets to explicate capitalism’s role in debt which, unlike most extended metaphors, seemed to bear the weight of comparison without strain.

Overall, the show’s long-view was sharper than its interest in individuals and it was here that its wryest wit was at work. Most memorable was the threesome’s sock-puppet mime of a 1990 House of Commons debate, one of the most vivid evocations of Margaret Thatcher I have seen. Yet here the logical void yawned widest: it was clear that Broke desperately wanted us to read the bigger picture into the small details, but was foiled by the fragmentedness reflected in its title. Broke assembled some intriguing material about the financial crisis, but did frustratingly little to piece it together.

Reviews by Rivkah Brown

Underbelly, Bristo Square

Soweto Afro-Pop Opera

theSpace on the Mile

An Evening with Dementia

Banshee Labyrinth

Rebranding Beelzebub

The Assembly Rooms

Owen O’Neill: Red Noise

Pleasance Courtyard

Pierre Novellie is Mighty Peter

Underbelly, Cowgate

Mush and Me




The Blurb

Multi award-winners The Paper Birds (Thirsty, In a Thousand Pieces) return with a new verbatim production exploring the debt of a nation. Based on interviews taken across the UK in 2014, this heartfelt show explores what it means to be broke, from feeling the pinch to finding yourself penniless in this visually stunning new production. ‘The Paper Birds company are a remarkable bunch.’ **** (Scotsman). ‘Engaging, frequently very funny and poignant’ **** (Independent on Thirsty). ‘The Paper Birds are expert theatre-makers. They unearth stories on hard-hitting themes through verbatim material and subtle movement’ (Total Theatre).