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Review: Broke, Live Theatre, Newcastle

Paper Birds' niftily staged exploration of what it means to be broke in 21st century Britain offered a thought-provoking hour of theatre

Richard Davenport A scene from Broke by The Paper Birds theatre company
A scene from Broke by The Paper Birds theatre company

Debt, poverty and our relationships with money are all explored in Broke, a hit from last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe which came to Tyneside this week as part of a UK tour.

Based on interviews gathered from across the UK during 2014, acclaimed Leeds-based theatre makers The Paper Birds have used real life stories from the front - and bread - line of financial struggles to investigate what it means to be broke in the UK in the 21st century.

During their research writer/performers (and company co-founders) Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh asked people everything from what they earned, spent and owed to what their dream house and lifestyle would look like.

We hear direct from interviewees as well as hearing their words through the performances of Jemma, Kylie and composer Shane Durrant as they neatly replay, act out and listen to the recordings.

The writer-performers share their debt history too, putting their own finances under a Fisher Price microscope, which would chime in with many of the other props on stage.

Richard Davenport A scene from Broke by The Paper Birds theatre company
A scene from Broke by The Paper Birds theatre company

Kylie’s lifetime expenses were even illustrated via an ever-increasing barchart until she admitted being bailed out by her mum in her 30s when she could see no end to the upward debt trajectory she’d been on since leaving for university.

Set to a backdrop of a child’s bedroom, book-ended by a pair of nifty booths from which we hear much of the dialogue, the production has clearly been soaked in creative thinking while working to an appropriately small budget. Clever use of graphics and movement sequences - I was particularly impressed by Jemma and Kylie’s ability to move in fast forward mode - mean you’re concentration has little time to wander.

That said, I was least gripped or moved by the moments when bigger ideas and wider economic theories were being put out there - these moments had none of the intimacy of hearing real people’s experiences and were the poorer for it.

I did feel like I’d heard a lot of what had been said before over the past few years, but depressingly for us all, that’s not to say it’s any less relevant today.

Broke will return to the North East when it plays a date at Washington Arts Centre on March 12. For full details, visit www.thepaperbirds.com.


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