Ciaran Sneddon

Review: Broke at Newcastle's Live Theatre

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This short, sweet snapshot of British life wove together stories from across society, and examined the one thing that controls our every movement:  money. From pocket money to pensions, how are our lives affected and moulded by bits of paper and, increasingly, onscreen figures?

That was the central message of Broke, an entertaining and thought-provoking exploration of how debts prop up our economy while simultaneously orchestrating the downfall of the working classes. Using research from interviews with people across the country, The Paper Birds put together a play which was both one fluid story and a sequence of seemingly unrelated scenes.

It took a while for me to be convinced that this show deserved to be on a stage. Not because it was bad, but because it felt much more like the subject material for a short film or animation. The “recorded” voices, in fact re-enacted by the three performers, felt like they would have been stronger in their original form, rather than reconstructed in the theatre.

The set was basic – with a casual nod to the Wizard of Oz with the main establishment banker figure remaining behind a curtain for a long time – but effective, with projections used to illuminate the black backdrop. Initially, the actors took on the role of the interviewees, standing in tall, glass-fronted boxes, as childlike animations brought the audience’s attention to the centre.

At times, the show felt a little dense. The novelty of hearing quotes from real people lost its appeal, particularly when so many were thrown at you that it was difficult to follow who was saying what. The intention appeared to be an attempt to make a chorus of commentaries on debt and financial difficulties, but the result was more of a distraction from the real drama of the piece – a speed-bump in an otherwise thrillingly real performance.

The real victory for the piece came in the form of its ability to present the main threads of the story in an honest, frank and darkly comedic manner. It avoided the clichés of “poverty porn” that entrapped Benefits Street, and kept a freshness to its somewhat depressing base.

The three actors, who also had individual backstage roles including the director, composer, and lighting director, were understated in their performances, keeping a gritty realism. At times they threw in what appeared to be directed mistakes, which while amusing, brought you back out from the show. Their more subtle comedic moments, including one well played scene where a character tried to get a loan from a bank, were much more successful in their execution.

Overall, Broke managed to steer its way through an abundance of obstacles, and told an immersive story in an effective and interesting way. While it had its flaws, its entertaining boldness made you think about just how broke our financial system might be.


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