Interview: Jemma McDonnell, Mobile

The Paper Birds are a devising theatre company with a political agenda, currently touring the country with Mobile, the second show in a trilogy about social class. Staged in a caravan for audiences of up to eight people at a time, the show is an intimate piece of verbatim theatre based on personal testimonies, and will be popping up at the seaside, on high streets, at schools, and in arts centres and theatres all over the UK until October.

“We want people to think about social class and social mobility,” says The Paper Birds’ Artistic Director, Jemma McDonnell. “Who are you and how do you experience the world? Did the start in life that your parents gave you determine who you would be? Is the society we live in one that gives everyone an equal opportunity? And if not, is this important?

“We were keen to make a trilogy about class because it is so complex in the way it shadows who we are and what we do in the world. We began by collaborating with a sociologist, Dr Sam Friedman from London School of Economics, who shared a range of verbatim interviews with us that he had undertaken as part of his research. This led us to talking to more communities and beginning to shape a show that really explored ideas around social mobility.”

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

While it’s undoubtedly a unique and fascinating choice of setting, staging a show in a caravan is not without its equally unique challenges: “The caravan is very intimate and this allowed us to use theatrical images and trickery that would not be impactful in a larger traditional theatre space,” explains Jemma. “But the caravan’s size was also its downfall, as limited space meant we had to be creative with the ways we created our characters. Luckily, we managed to come up with a few tricks!

“The show is made to be highly accessible. It can travel, it is only 40 minutes long and there is a cap on ticket prices. We want people to take a risk on the show, to be brave and step inside the caravan with us!”

And people, it seems, are happy to take that risk; having already been on tour since May, the company have found audiences very receptive to the unusual format of the show. “Overwhelmingly so,” confirms Jemma. “Audience feedback and responses have been fantastic. People love to try something different and whilst the caravan looks ordinary from the outside, it has many unexpected surprises inside that the audiences have loved.”

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

The Paper Birds are an established company aiming to inspire, educate, and make big socio-political subjects accessible. “We met whilst at Bretton Hall, Leeds University studying,” explains Jemma. “We graduated in 2003 and have been making work together since. As a company, we make political work that gives people a voice. Sometimes it is our voice, more often the shows are based on people we meet around the UK. We want to make work that has an impact socially.”

Intrigued? Catch Mobile on tour – visit thepaperbirds.com for all dates and venues.

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