No more than inspired by George Orwell’s first published work (1933), David Byrne’s play links two stories – the middle class aspiring writer Eric Blair (Orwell, played by Richard Delaney) experiencing a life of deprivation in 1930s Paris and the middle class Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee (Carole Street) going undercover to investigate how the poor get by in modern London. Put together, the piece plays like a missive from a generation believing that Socialism can provide answers to one that knows for certain that it cannot. The Orwell story carries hope, Toynbee leaves us in despair. Orwell described a rich array of characters, none of them sufficiently developed here, whilst Toynbee’s account is factual and preachy, concluding with the view that the poor pay a higher price for everything. Past and present clearly reflect each other, but, in this play, the two tenses never properly knit together.
Performance date: 19 August 2015