Down and Out in Paris and London
Inspired by both George Orwell’s pre-fame work –when he was struggling penniless writer Arthur Eric Blair- and Polly Toynbee’s research work looking into poverty in the modern age Down and Out in Paris and London succeeds in drawing comparisons between two different ages which despite location and the introduction of the welfare state shows that very little has really changed.
The tale begins with Orwell very much down and out in Paris during the 1920’s when things were so bad for him that he had to sell his clothes to survive. At one point prison seems to be a viable option as it would at least mean a roof over his head, a bed and regular meals. Work in a kitchen restaurant saved him and not only put food in his stomach and money in his pocket but also a little colour and flavour into his life.
Interspersed with his tale is journalist Polly Toynbee’s social experiment on living beneath the breadline. In a week when the DWP has issued a leaflet claiming sanctions are a fluffy commodity which those who have fallen foul of actually think are a good thing have been found to be fake her experiences with the benefits system is more relevant than ever. Shunted around from pillar to post then forced into low paid work with long hours with any self-esteem systematically eroded as she finds herself becoming more and more invisible even to people she once knew and engaged with.
More than anything Toynbee’s tale is a damning indictment of how our society denigrates and degrades those that are the most vulnerable and while there may have been no support system to cushion the likes of Orwell in the 1920’s at least in low paid jobs he was able to command some respect from his peers ,if no-one else, as well as seeing it is a way out of poverty as opposed to a trap.
Executed at breakneck speed and jumping between the two different tales with consummate ease Down and Out in Paris and London is a great show which treats very serious issues with humour and respect.
Down and Out in Paris and London is on at Pleasance Courtyard until August 31st at 6,30pm daily

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