Review: Broke, Greenwich Theatre By Grace Watts on January 26, 2015

For The Paper Birds, Broke is the first show in a planned trilogy about the topic of class. The nature of the production explores our relationship with money, and huge effort went into researching the real life stories from which the verbatim piece was refined. It incorporates interviews from food banks to betting shops, to provide a front-line account of the effect of debt.

Childhood naivety is a compelling theme throughout the production. I especially enjoyed how The Paper Birds use the juxtaposition of childhood naïvety and adult poverty, for example when a voiceover of a child’s account of his hopes for the future and what he would spend a whole thirty pounds on echoes lovingly through the auditorium. It is deeply saddening when put against the plight of a mother who is just living day to day, knowing that thirty pounds is a lot of money, yet somehow not much at all either. Broke raises powerful questions of poverty and national debt, but uses visual projections incorporated into the set to clarify these complicated matters. They also uses props consisting mainly of children’s toys to emphasis the futility of some real-life situations, such as a wonderful scene with a children’s mini plastic supermarket checkout till. It is used as a fantastic device to highlight how nothing that we are purchasing is real and, even more so, nor is the money that we are buying it with. It brought to me the question: what do we teach our children about money? After all, they are the next generation to inherit our debt. That wonderful young voice that spends all his pocket money on sweets will eventually learn the value of money, and it’s a crushing realisation as we pass the debt on to him. Not everyone is cheating the system – benefits are needed – and this piece breaks through the biased view of benefits to examine the everyday struggle and stress that most people deal with to make ends meet. An interesting theme of rewinding the recorded verbatim tapes is played out physically and brings great emphasis to the dialogue that, if it weren’t paused upon, could easily go unnoticed. The synchronisation between the actors, sharing lines and interweaving their characters, shows a reflection upon our society: how national debt is an element in everyone’s lives and part of a much larger global framework. The Paper Birds company, based in Leeds,, have clearly been devising together for a long time (since 2003) and they are a tribute to each other, with no one shining star. Credit is due to the composer Shane Durrant as the music is entirely gut-wrenching and plays harmoniously with the verbatim dialogue. Since the words we use every day so easily mask the meaning of what we are trying to say, a powerful score behind them works as an audible subtext. Shane Durrant, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh all bring out this pain behind the words. Broke is a reflection on an economic system that needs us to keep borrowing and spending to survive; and if that is the case, we are broken. Broke played at the Greenwich Theatre. For more information, see The Paper Birds website.