Paper Birds’ Broke brims with urgency. It proves that personal experiences of debt and financial insecurity tessellate to produce a politically-charged bigger picture.
Paper Birds has inserted verbatim tales of everyday existence into an ordinary locale – the set is dominated by bunk beds, decorated with a child’s drawings and toys. Shane Durrant sits underneath the top bunk, tinkling away on the xylophone, and directing proceedings, whilst Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh act out the verbatim interviews, taken from around the UK.
The presentation of these interviews is approached very intelligently. Paper Birds is acutely sensitive to the effects generated from placing the stories side by side. It’s also happy to play around with different staging to expose the hypocrisies of the financial system. The demonisation of personal debts is juxtaposed with the acceptance of national debt; applying for a credit card is framed as a Deal or No Deal-style game show; and a conversation about bingo takes place at the checkout of a supermarket.
In one scene, sock puppets act out the famous exchange between Margret Thatcher and Simon Hughes in 1990, when the prime minister justified income inequality, claiming the liberals would “rather have the poor poorer”. Placed after a series of interviews about people’s real experiences of poverty, this is a powerful and damning condemnation of ‘Punch and Judy’ politics.
It’s enough for us to bear witness to these stories, and to get angry about them. With a neat aesthetic and inventive stage effects, Paper Birds keeps up the emotional momentum of this piece, which ends with a burst of fury and frustration.
This is a powerful and persuasive production, which critiques the perpetual unfairness of our capitalist system whilst not losing sight of the individual lives affected by it. It’s a valuable and radical rally-cry.
Broke is at Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.