Writer and Director: A. Lim Malamas
Let’s start with the good things. Enigma Birds is certainly atmospheric with most of the show played in near darkness. The American accents are perfect. The sad piano creates a sense of mystery. And it’s only 40 minutes long. But ultimately Athena Lim Malamas’s show is too self-indulgent and its promise of an examination on the nature of truth never materialises.
It’s a film noir tale, but for some reason its chronology is out of order. Someone has been murdered; perhaps the English woman’s husband. In the gloom and almost completely obscured by a mountain of black cloth we can just about make out a struggle, but who is fighting and with what result is only clear to the part of the audience who is seated in that corner of the cavernous Theatro Technis.
Among the six characters, there is a policeman in a raincoat, there is a jazz singer with a guitar and there is a femme fatale. As the detective, Ray Calleja is the good guy, but who’s driven wild with desire when he meets Tess, a suspect in the murder. Calleja does well with very little to create a familiar figure like Humphrey Bogart in a 1940s film. His nemesis, Tess, is played by Malamas who wanders the stage like a drugged-up Bette Davis. Unfortunately Malamas talks too quietly to be heard.
Scenes are ‘shot’ as if they are scenes from a film nor and lit as if they are full of portent – like the crispy bacon opening – but the story is so slight and the characters so paper thin that it’s difficult to care about who has been murdered, let alone find out who the murderer is. In the publicity Malamas suggests there will be influences from Kurosawa’s Rashomon where different characters remember the same incident in different ways, but there is little sense of repetition here unless it happens behind Cloth Mountain.
Enigma Birds is certainly an enigma and, although it is well rehearsed, it takes itself too seriously. The flyer comes with a quote by Malamas herself: ‘One of the greatest fears is facing ourselves.’ But it’s too dark to see anything, even our own reflection. Admittedly parts of the shadowy aesthetic is pleasing, however it would be more suited to a play by Tennessee Williams where the characters are as deep as the ocean.
Reviewed on 12 August 2022
The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022