PIT/New Diorama Theatre combines Orwell’s magical travel journal, Down and Out in Paris and London, with Polly Toynbee’s 2003 book, Hard Work. The pairing is a smart one. Both texts examine a middle class person’s voluntary venture beneath the poverty line. It is a good idea, and one that I was exited to see, but the production lacks the heart and soul of Orwell’s original, resulting in an underwhelming hour.
Instead of focusing on the unique observations Orwell and Toynbee made on their journeys, Byrne chooses to create a preaching harangue against, well, just about everything. While important issues worthy of discussion, the play neglects the fact that Orwell and Toynbee are wealthy liberals venturing into the less familiar ground for ‘research purposes’.
This is not to say the production lacks creativity. The staging was fluid and inventive, characters emerged from underneath a spinning bed and from inside a rotating wardrobe. There were clever overlaps between past and present, such as when Orwell lends Polly a pen. However, these inventive flourishes seem a tad forced and hollow.
Richard Delancy, playing Orwell, is the strongest actor in the small cast, colouring his crisp delivery with dynamic variation. We see Eric Blair become George Orwell throughout his performance. The remaining cast speaks with weak accents and lackluster vocal and physical variation meaning their characterization is not detailed enough to be engaging, humorous or pathos invoking.
While this production’s message is an important one, it needs to be told with more focus and drive in order to be properly heard.