Theatre reviews: Broke and Polar Bears

Broke at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Broke at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
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Broke, West Yorkshire Playhouse *****

NOT THE best thing for a theatre critic to admit, but I must not be particularly observant.

Since its inception I have watched Leeds-based Paper Birds grow and I always assumed the company was Kylie Walsh and Jemma McDonnell. Turns out there is a third Paper Bird – Shane Durrant. In my defence, Broke is the first time Shane has joined Kylie and Jemma on stage and he joins them in their tightest, most accomplished show to date.

Using their trademarks of physical and verbatim theatre, the Paper Birds have created a piece of work about debt that is honest and searingly painful. By concentrating on intensely personal stories – including their own – they have found the universal. Broke examines our relationship with debt on both a micro and macro level. The least entertaining moments are when the company tries to explain the large economic story of the contemporary world but it provides a helpful framework for when they tell the real-life stories of people living with debt.

One of the reasons the Paper Birds are such an intensely likeable group is because they know when they share their stories it is not to feed their ego, but to connect with 
their audience. They are 
not being indulgent, just entirely honest. It makes for a moving, painful and important piece of theatre.

There is nothing wasted in this, one of the best shows they have made yet.

• To February 6, then touring.

Polar Bears, West Yorkshire Playhouse ***

A TALE of young love, of taking that leap into the unknown, meeting the moment when it is time to put away childish things.

If these all seem cliches, they are, and they become the basis of the latest in the Play, Pie, Pint series. The pints and pies available from 6pm, the play begins at 7pm and it is a great way to make theatre more accessible to both the audience and to theatre makers. In 2015’s first outing for the play, pie, pint concept the writer is Maureen Lipman’s daughter Amy Rosenthal.

The theatre makers looking for access to the theatre via her play Polar Bears are young director Caitlin Mcleod and actors David Leopold and Verity Kirk, who recently joined the Playhouse on an actor graduate scheme.

The play itself, however, feels all too generic, too cliched. There are some nice touches and a nice idea behind the short (hour-long) play: a young, not-long graduated couple are making their way into the real world and trying to negotiate the difficult transition. They’re both geeks – we meet them dressed as characters from Lord of the Rings role-playing in a wood on the outskirts of the city. The characters have names, but it really feels like they might as well be called Boy and Girl. It feels like someone writing about a time they are observing from a distance, rather than actually being there in the thick of it. There is some nice writing and enough wit to amuse, but it all feels a little too superficial.