A sloping, jagged edged floor is the sole set piece, evoking both the sense of a disintegrating stage and a raft adrift on a rough sea. As Airlie Dodds’ Jenny says “I feel like a castaway” and so are they all. This is the double metaphor which is director (and set designer) Anthony Skuse’s vision for BIRDLAND, currently playing at the New Theatre.
On this fragile life-raft, which seems to be forever threatening to tip the characters into the sea of nonentity strides, wanders, sleeps, and reclines Paul (Graeme McRae), some sort of music god. Maybe a rock god from his costume. His accomplice in this homeless (they live perpetually in hotel rooms) journey of sex, drugs and rock n roll is his friend and co-musician, Johnny (John and Paul … really Simon Stephens?). Then Johnny does the unforgivable and falls in love, and it seems as though he may want to settle down and Paul, selfishly, cannot have that. Thus begins a series of events with rather dire consequences.
McRae’s performance as the hard, hard, hard hearted, thoroughly egotistical and self-centred Paul is complete. He says that all he ever wanted to do was sing his songs but his complete Faustian immersion into his hedonistic life gives lie to that. His best friend, co-writer and performer Johnny (Jack Angwin) is equally as finely tuned a performance. These two are supposedly friends from school days but the connection between them seems, at times, a little tenuous. The chemistry may develop with a few more performances under their respective belts. Louise Harding’s Marnie, the point of contention, haunts their lives, wandering the edges of the stage, having been tipped off the raft early on. It was this moment which perhaps could do with more clarity, her despair needs to be more clearly defined.
McRae and Angwin are more than ably supported by a tight troupe of actors who play out a range of roles, swapping genders and accents, though special mention should be made of Charmaine Bingwa’s portrayal of Paul’s father. Possibly the best vignette of the night. The use of many accents does help establish the international, wandering aspect of the life of this superstar however, some accents were done with less confidence and this affected volume. Again, an issue which will resolve with a few more performances.
Anthony Skuse has chosen to deliver the play without an interval and you can see why. Time in this play is elastic; a series of snapshots and a break may have interrupted the flow. Or not. An interval may have allowed more time to explore the initial Marnie situation more deeply.
You should see it for its highly imaginative vision. It is a stripped back, minimalist examination of celebrity and how that confers the right to behave differently; to not be subject to the rules that the rest of us must live by. Paul has sold his soul for the right to do whatever he wants when he wants and now must pay. It’s an old, old, moral held up to a very forensic bulb.
See below for season information
Kate Stratford: Theatre Now & On The Town
3 Oct – 4 Nov 2017
Previews Tue 3 & Wed 4 Oct, 7:30pm
Thu – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Final performance, Sat 4 Nov 2pm
Venue: New Theatre
Theatre Company: New Theatre