George Orwell wrote that to be inside the whale, like Jonah, ‘is a very comfortable, cosy, homelike thought.’ Holman’s play shows Orwell outside the whale, in squalor and poverty and hunger. It is a fictional account of the time Orwell spent living as a homeless person, which would later provide material for his essay The Spike and his first book Down and Out in Paris and London.
The play first shows Eric Blair — George Orwell’s real name — as the budding author, collecting books from his publisher’s warehouse to give as Christmas presents, and then finds him three years earlier dressed as a tramp, breaking into a hen-hut for shelter and living in the intolerable conditions of a workhouse. Outside the Whale is a distressing and moving account of his experiment and the people he meets, whose lives are far from comfortable.
Outside the Whale was first produced in 1976 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.