DramaNorth WestReview

Bird – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Writer: Katherine Chandler
Director: Rachel O’Riordan
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby

The opening stage picture of Bird conjures the seaside with a perfect economy, while a soundscape of seagulls provides the first of many direct and indirect avian references. Two yellow chairs and two yellow ladders are all that the set consists of, but the whole of life in a rundown seaside town is captured as they are used cleverly by a cast who absolutely inhabit this world. Bird is at times a grim depiction of life for those with little power but there is still some joy to be had and some wonders to be found in the seascape that surrounds its characters.

Ava, perhaps unsurprisingly, means ‘bird’. She is a 15-year-old girl in care desperately reaching out to her mother for a connection. She chirps and babbles through the opening scene, trying to find anything that will spark a connection. Claire, her mother, is having none of it. When Ava turns 16 she must leave the care home that she is in and find a place in the world. Claire is certain that place isn’t with her and her husband. Ava’s friendships with 13-year-old Tash has been a lifeline while in care and she has formed relationship with two men who are troubling in different ways, a 17-year-old called Dan and a 40-year-old called Lee. Ava’s struggle to make the transition from care into the adult world, to find a family who’ll love her and to make sense of the last three years of her life form the body of the play.

Georgia Henshaw is fantastic as Ava. She shows a young woman who is naturally full of joy, trust and intelligence, as expressed in the scenes with her friend Tash, and then allows glimpses of a damaged and desperate girl to break through in her scenes with her mother and Lee. It is a complex, nuanced performance that Henshaw makes heart-breaking without any hint of sentimentality. The rest of cast are strong. Guy Rhys is chilling as Lee, and Siwan Morris makes explicable the terrible choice she has made as a mother dealing with the secrets of Ava’s past. Rachel O’Riordan’s direction keeps everything moving at a good pace and the more abstract dance and movement moments make clear sense in terms of the emotions each character has at that point in the narrative. Kevin Treacy’s lighting design is bold for a studio space and it works brilliantly.

Chandler’s play is lyrical, topical and intense. There are hints of Vivienne Franzmann’s Pests, another play about ayoung woman leaving an institution that the Royal Exchange Studio staged. The female characters are well characterised and engaging. The male characters are perhaps a little less convincing, Dan’s dialogue is sometimes stilted and the ubiquity of male actual or potential sexual abusers in the play smacks a little of misandry. The avian metaphors might also be a bit over-egged for some. But this a great play none the less. The energy, clarity and confident style of Bird make for a compelling 70 minutes of drama.

Runs until 25 June 2016 | Image: Farrows Creative

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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