Strikingly staged, deftly acted and simultaneously hard-hitting and bitingly funny. PIT/New Diorama Theatre’s new production
An affecting and effective piece: challenging, yet thoroughly entertaining and compelling.
Two years after a 2013 sell-out Fringe run, this London-based company have created a distinctive, professional production that expertly balances two time periods, two novels and several tough social themes with both humour and heart.
Down and Out in Paris and London chronicles the experiences of a young George Orwell; a man convinced his upper-class upbringing has hindered his ability to write honestly. In a bid to find something worth writing about, Orwell disappears into the underworld of 1920s Paris to live and struggle alongside the poorest of Parisian society.
Writer-director David Byrne parallels Orwell’s story with the modern-day experiences of Polly Toynbee, a journalist who went undercover on a London council estate at the turn of the millennium. The two stories mirror and complement one another, both highlighting the impossible plight of those forced to live below the breadline.
George Orwell himself, here played charmingly by Richard Delaney, narrates the gripping production. In the fast-paced opening scene, Orwell introduces the audience to his fellow inhabitants of the Parisian Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. The simple but clever set, which is used to magnificent effect throughout, is particularly effective in this opening scene: a single bed is whisked around the stage as the various eccentric hotel guests appear underneath it, giving the impression of the various floors of this towering, ragtag building. Orwell introduces them all, from an idle Russian artist and his doting mother, to his closest friend and confidant Boris.
Every experience of Orwell’s in Paris is shrewdly mirrored by similar events in Toynbee’s London. This paralleling forces the gifted ensemble to switch roles in a nano-second and have a firm grasp on set, props and costume. This impressive doubling up of characters is particularly effective when the cast play similar characters across the ages: the pawn-shop owner who rips off a desperate Orwell is simultaneously the BrightHouse employee who explains a crippling repayment system to a bewildered Toynbee.
The result is an affecting and effective piece: challenging, yet thoroughly entertaining and compelling. Due to transfer back to London in April 2016, where tickets for people living on the minimum wage, Job Seeker’s Allowance or a zero-hours contract will be under £5, Down & Out in Paris in London is a must-see: catch it now in Scotland while you can.