Debt – it's no laughing matter, is it? The average total debt per household was £54,636 in April 2016 (which includes mortgages, but still). That's around £13,520 of personal, non-mortgage debt apiece – a staggering £4000 more each than last summer's figure. It's a huge – and growing – problem, and one which particularly piques high-student-indebted, heavily-mortgaged Oxford. How are we to break free from the spiral of borrowing? How do we even break even? And – more importantly – can we see the funny side of all this fiscal precariousness? Is there one?
Tina Sederholm hopes to ease the pain for us a little in her show, Til Debt Us Do Part, which I catch at the Old Fire Station as part of Off Beat. It promises to be an evening of poetry, anecdotes and – get this – actual research. She opens with a slightly flummoxing flight of fancy involving the dinosaurs – if they were to have owed us much as we do today, how long would it take them to pay it off? – which doesn't serve as the most easily-grasped of her gags. How many dinosaurs does this presuppose? How are they to – or how would we – pay off the £25k per year she uses as a yardstick? It's a little perplexing. Happily, though, she manages the denouement well, and we're soon into the real heft of the show. Tina examines how and why we get into debt, and how difficult it is to get the 'claw-marks' of it out of our necks. The material is often confessional; she tells the story of growing up in a beautiful house with horses, and taking her first unwanted job at 16 leading riding lessons – a job which she still finds herself doing, 'just to tide her over'. The picture she paints is a familiar one: expectations dashed or somehow not quite hitting the mark; ingrained beliefs about how money works; the culture we inhabit leading us to think we can make demands of our money which are, really, untenable.
The show is slick, with frequent participation of a well-managed soundtrack and, while Sederholm seems a little lacking in confidence (though this is a preview, after all), her material is strong and when she's on track she's highly watchable and convincing. The best bits, for me, are those which delve deep into the personal and poetic, in particular her moving account of debts of gratitude. We owe her thanks for an uplifting evening.