“The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.” – George Orwell
- Watch the recording of Down and Out: LIVE in London
- Watch the recording of Down and Out: LIVE in Paris
- Resources and suggested reading
Orwell wrote Down and Out in Paris and London as a result of his own experiences sleeping rough and working on what would now be called zero-hours contracts in hotel kitchens. The performance draws on other Orwell work including his diaries, The Spike and A Clergyman’s Daughter. Readers include writers, activists, politicians, campaigners and young people who have been homeless. In a multi-disciplinary production, modern stories from the streets are experienced alongside the Orwell text.
The performances – in London on 6th June, 2018 as part of UCL’s Festival of Culture, and Paris on 28th September, 2018 – are by the same team who produced the acclaimed reading of the whole of 1984 on a single day in 2017. Each performance was accompanied discussions and workshops on the contemporary challenges of homelessness and poverty. Both are available now to watch online.
The event was the result of a collaboration between The Orwell Foundation, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Libby Brodie Productions and UCL’s Festival of Culture. It was supported using public funding by Arts Council England. We are grateful to generous sponsorship from White Light, the Young Theatre and Stone Nest.
Drawing on the iconic works of Orwell and combining these with real-life, modern-day testimonies, Orwell’s Down and Out Live is an immersive production which focuses on the phenomenon of homelessness both in the past and present day. Read live by politicians, artists, celebrities, activists and members of the homeless community and using a combination of music, story-telling, film and performance this live theatrical event, directed by Hannah Price, ran in London for one day only ahead of a performance in Paris.
The events were accompanied by new poetic responses in English and French and a short film will be produced by the award-winning film-maker Edwin Mingard.
For those unable to attend the London or Paris venues, both performances were live-streamed and viewing events were arranged in libraries and community hubs across the UK, with both the London and Paris performances being recorded in full and being made publicly available.
Inspiring social change
Orwell strongly believed that art and literature could make direct and long-lasting change, focusing the minds and the empathies of his audience on the social or political evils of the day. This event fused live art and social activism in an outburst of theatre, music and literature. The performance formed the backbone of a narrative that explores and reveals what homelessness is, how it manifests and what damage is does to the individual and to society at large.
The Orwell Foundation is grateful for the continuing support from The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who are devoted to inspiring social change. Much has improved since the Beveridge Report in 1942 categorised the five evils in society – squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. But there has been a significant increase in the numbers of homeless people both in the UK and in France. Down and Out in Paris and London – LIVE shines a light on the issues and foster a cross-cultural dialogue culminating in a policy seminar on homelessness.
Libraries, bookshops, and community hubs could organise screenings and the performances were live-streamed online.
We produced a suggested reading list for accompanying events and displays.