Orwell’s Down and Out: LIVE


“The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.” – George Orwell

George Orwell’s classic book on 1930s poverty in Paris and London is to be brought to life in an immersive performance that asks searching questions about homelessness today.

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 as part of UCL’s Festival of Culture, and Paris in late September – are by the same team who produced the acclaimed reading of the whole of 1984 on a single day in 2017. Each performance will be accompanied by discussions and workshops on the contemporary challenges of homelessness and poverty.

The event is the result of a collaboration between The Orwell Foundation, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Libby Brodie Productions and UCL’s Festival of Culture. It is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

The Production

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, will run in London for one day only ahead of a performance in Paris.

The events will be 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 venue, both performances will be live streamed and viewing events will be 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 will fuse live art and social activism in an outburst of theatre, music and literature. The performance will form 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 will shine a light on the issues and foster a cross-cultural dialogue culminating in a policy seminar on homelessness.

Get involved in Down and Out: LIVE

Down and Out: LIVE will take place atStone Nest, in the heart of London’s West End, on 6th June from 2pm to 6pm. The event is free, open to all – register in advance with the UCL Festival of Culture. Audience members can stay for the whole performance, or drop in drop in throughout the afternoon. A panel debate on building public and political support to tackle homelessness will follow at 6.30pm.

The Orwell Foundation has a designated contact for libraries and community hubs, who can be contacted here. First things first, get in contact to say you’re interested! We’ll help in any way we can. Libraries, bookshops, and community hubs can organise screenings. The performance will be live-streamed online. So, with the help of a computer, internet connection, and a screen or projector, members of the public can get involved in this nationwide event. On the day, it’s as easy as setting up a computer, a projector and some speakers, and clicking the link to get the live-stream started.

Other ideas for getting involved include:

To publicise your event, we can help with posters, logos, information and some web support. We will add you to our listing of community events on our website, and can support via Twitter and Facebook (follow us on @TheOrwellPrize and use the hashtag).

For more information, please contact info@theorwellprize.co.uk.