By Isabella Fraser
The Paper Birds, the company producing Broke, writes: “There are 13 million people in poverty in the UK and over half of these people are from working families”. Being ‘broke’ means different things to different people. This multi-media verbatim play explores not only the financial implications of being broke, but also the idea that as a country Britain and its social policy is broken.
The stage is centred around a child’s bedroom – the bunk bed type that has a bed at the top and a computer area underneath, curtained off. To each side is a box with a screen, similar to pods in sci-fi films, or like giant doll boxes. The set is used creatively and effectively to present contrasting stories of people and their lives. It could have been easy for this set to seem overwhelming but the overall effect just managed to avoid this because there is no wastage of space or time on stage.
The three-strong cast – Jemma McDonnell who also directed, Kylie Walsh who also created the lighting design and Shane Durrant who also composed the music – are fluid in their interactions: in particular the scenes where McDonnell and Walsh are fast-forwarding, rewinding and reacting in unison are skillful pieces of performance. Despite the ever-changing form of information, the cast continues to hold the attention of the audience – no mean feat. The introduction of a satirical Deal or No Deal section on debt manages to bring in a great deal of humour while making a challenging point.
Moving seamlessly from character performance to multi-media on-screen information to heart-breaking voiceovers, this production is devastating in so many ways. It is verbatim, using the actual words of real people as well as case study information; it is about debt and its effect on lives, a very real problem, and a sad indictment of today’s world. The Paper Birds have managed to create a piece of political physical theatre that does not to preach: it does not give a solution but it does pose questions. The performance was a sell-out on the day this reviewer visited so grab tickets to see this while you can; the impact of it will remain with you for sometime after.
Broke runs until 25 August (not 22) at the Jack Dome in the Pleasance Dome at 16.10pm. Running time is 1 hour.