Broke (Edinburgh Fringe)

A multi-layered look at debt and poverty from The Paper Birds

We have heard plenty, mostly from Tory politicians and the right-wing media, about Broken Britain. But what about Broke Britain? What about the nation of debtors, benefit claimants, people scraping by on minimum wage?

The Paper Birds want to talk about money. In response to the widening gap between the UK’s rich and poor, the theatre company have taken to the streets and asked people what they earn, what they spend, what they owe. What emerges is a complex, multi-layered picture of poverty and debt, refracted through company members Jemma McDonnell, Kylie Walsh and Shane Durrant‘s personal relationships with money.

The research process is inscribed in the piece itself, which embeds verbatim material from several of the individuals interviewed by The Paper Birds and shows the performers conducting, listening to and replaying those interviews. It’s an open, welcoming gesture, offering its audience a way in and inviting them to consider the same questions. The staging equally nods to the company’s own difficulties with money, making no attempt to cover up the DIY nature of how much of this has been put together.

Like Play Dough, Broke also highlights the contingency of money, which only works because we believe in it. It’s a commodity that banks can conjure almost from thin air, while mere mortals scrabble around for enough to keep the lights on and the cupboards stocked. It is when The Paper Birds focus on individuals that the piece is most powerful, losing its way a little when it tries to traverse too much ground. There is a slight sense that the company had so much material to work with that they have been reluctant to let anything go.

Ultimately, The Paper Birds point to a systemic problem. Our economy needs us to keep borrowing, meaning that the debts will only continue to stack up. It is through bringing the structural down to the level of the personal, however, that they convey the real impact of money and its absence.

Broke runs at Pleasance Dome until 25 August.