Satire, Pleasance Courtyard, Venue 33, 18:30 until the 31st August.
Down and Out in Paris and London brings George Orwell’s seminal novel up to date while retaining half of his original story. The play follows the novel’s Parisian plot, but for the London leg of the book the play follows a Guardian journalist and her modern day foray into a life of poverty in London.
Orwell’s descent from Eton to the slums of Paris is paralleled by a Guardian writer’s descent into a London council estate on benefits. In Paris, Orwell bemoans his lack of food and slum living accommodations; however in the company of his Russian companion it transforms into a caper. The same cannot be said for the Guardian journalist’s London experience, which, although producing some hard hitting facts about living on benefits, came across as rather unsympathetic in comparison to Orwell’s Paris. She laments that a doctor doesn’t recognise her as a Guardian journalist when she is in her NHS uniform. I doubt Orwell would have been much surprised if one of his Eton chums failed to recognise him in his kitchen porter’s uniform.
However, the rhetoric between the plots is slick, both physically on stage and in the script. The changing of plots is preformed with ease throughout, something of a triumph when the play is under an hour long. Although the premise is ultimately about poverty voyeurism, the play for the most part sticks to Orwell’s original plot or relies on facts to base its story. There is even a rather English modestism to the venue in the Pleasance Theatre: with its stone walls and bench seating, even it is like a stripped back, no frills version of the traditional theatre.
In short, the production successfully pulls Orwell’s novel into the present day, although often the tone of Orwell’s original story is in a slightly queasy contrast with the Guardian journalist’s expose of the benefit system. Both the acting and the set are polished, which is much needed with the complexity of the parallel plots. This play will unexpectedly leave you questioning what poverty means today; but then you didn’t really expect a straightforward retelling of a classic at the Fringe, did you?
Image courtesy of New Diorama Theatre