Pros: An energetic and lively journey that bounces across centuries.
Cons: The show doesn’t delve fully into all its potential themes.
The New Diorama is currently playing host to a play based on writer George Orwell’s first full-length work, Down and Out in Paris and London. In this production, the classic Orwellian story from the early 1900s is overlain with the story of modern journalist Polly Toynbee’s experiences in the 21st century.
The audience are treated to Orwell’s Parisian experience while, concurrently, the London portion of the story is brought to life by Polly, who is reading Orwell’s book for inspiration and guidance as she aims to recreate his struggle in a poor London borough. The story flips from Orwell’s Paris to Polly’s London with ease in an action-packed and fast-paced show in which the clever stage settings absolutely shine.
The paradoxes are many and aid the audience in their empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by the two protagonists – but there are also interesting differences on show. Orwell’s Paris is a vivacious triumph of characters and community sprit; Polly’s London is a cold and disengaged battle against loneliness. The tones of each setting represent these themes wonderfully. There’s clever work done around the movement of the characters, and a scene in which Polly waits at a Jobseekers shows time passing in a very engaging and eye-catching way.
The show’s energy is infectious, and putting the modern element against the historical original is an interesting take on comparing how times have and have not changed. Polly’s version of poverty and struggle is far more relatable and heart-wrenching than that of the jovial, but hungry, Orwell. However, whilst this show does make an emphatic point, at times this paradox is perhaps hammered home too hard in order to ensure the audience definitely understand. After all, there are other themes in the show that are equally compelling, including the element of chosen involvement in poverty – and the disingenuity on display during both time periods.
The fact is, neither Polly nor Orwell are actually poor. Both are well-off, well-educated individuals who choose to dip a toe into the world of poverty for a somewhat self-serving purpose: to gain inspiration and knowledge for writing. For that reason alone, their tales of poverty aren’t really very genuine. Toynbee’s experiences come from a more honest place; she is a champion for reform and genuinely uses her experiences to rouse public empathy. Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the fact that true poverty and struggle are not chosen. Unlike in this play, people don’t have the option to go home when they’ve raised enough money, like Orwell, or when they’re exhausted by the struggle, like Polly.
It’s certainly an entertaining show and the cast do well in bringing their characters to life. Richard Delaney’s interpretation of George Orwell is particularly enjoyable – and he shines when demonstrating the exhaustion of Orwell after he actually secures a job. The supporting cast do an excellent job of creating the variety of characters that Polly and Orwell encounter, and there are some genuinely funny moments.
Down and Out in Paris and London is a strong show that brings up interesting points. Although I’m still not sure that I left with more answers than questions, I’m impressed by the way a classic story can be made to resonate with a modern audience.
Original Authors: George Orwell and Polly Toynbee
Adapted and Directed By: David Byrne
Producer: Helen Maltravers
Box Office: 020 7383 9034
Booking Link: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/down-out-in-paris-and-london
Booking Until: 14 May 2016