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Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London. Photo: Richard Davenport

Adapted from George Orwell’s memoir of Parisian poverty in the 1920s and Polly Toynbee’s book about minimum wage jobs 90 years later, David Byrne’s script and production aim to show how little has changed in the lives of the barely-employed.

But so different are the two writers on whom he has drawn that the actual effect makes Toynbee’s experience seem like the trivial and mildly offensive playing at poverty of a safely middle class tourist, while Orwell’s real experience and superior writing are all the more impressive through the contrast. 

The mode of the play is to flow smoothly back and forth, the actors sometimes passing each other onstage, between Orwell’s days of starvation punctuated by occasional backbreaking labour for a very few francs a day, with Toynbee’s visits to housing offices, job centres and minimum wage jobs, her most recurring complaint the annoyance and cost of having to travel across town on the tube. 

Granted that both writers always knew they had the escape hatch of return to their real lives, Orwell’s power as a writer and Richard Delaney’s performance convince us that the man is changed and deepened by his painful introduction to poverty, while Carole Street is unable to show Toynbee affected in any way at all by her adventure. 

A protean and smoothly directed cast play Everyone Else in instant characterisations and, when appropriate, caricatures.

Verdict
Polished dramatisation of two books on urban poverty merely shows that one is far better than the other

Production Information

Production
Down and Out in Paris and London
Venue
Pleasance Courtyard
City
Edinburgh
Starts
August 5, 2015
Ends
August 31, 2015
Authors
George Orwell, Polly Toynbee, David Byrne (adaptation)
Director
David Byrne, Kate Stanley
Design
Ronnie Dorsey (costume), Catherine Webb (lighting), Dominic Brennan (sound/music)
Technical
Helen Matravers (stage manager)
Cast includes
Richard Delaney, Carole Street, Mike Aherne, Andy McLeod, Andrew Strafford-Baker, Stella Taylor
Producer
Helen Matravers
Running time
1hr