Tuesday 7 November 2017

Birdcage Thursdays - Theatre Review

What: Birdcage Thursdays
When: 2 November - 12 November 2017
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Written by: Sandra Fiona Long
Directed by: Caitlin Dullard
Performed by: Sophia Constantine, Sandra Fiona Long, and Genevieve Picot
Set by: Joanne Mott
Lighting by: Rebecca Etchell
Sound by: Raya Slavin

Sophia Constantine and Genevieve Picot
Theatre is being kicked and dragged into the 21st century by original thinkers and people (mainly women in my opinion...) who are eschewing the standard tropes of narrative dominated story telling, moving beyond affective performance making devices, and going straight to the heart of experiences with what I like to call post-truth theatre. Sandra Fiona Long is one of these intrepid trail blazers and tales such as Birdcage Thursdays, playing at fortyfivedownstairs this week, which embody script and performance as equal partners is leading the charge.

Long's writing is deceptive in that, on the page, they appear finely crafted hyper-realistic portraitures without the obvious driving energies of 'dramatic action'. I always say when you look at a play you have to understand who wrote it and Birdcage Thursdays is the perfect example. Long is a writer, performer, director and you have to understand that as she crafts the play she is imagining a world so much greater than dialogue and all you have to do is see this play to understand the fullness and exquisite craftsmanship Long brings to the theatre form.

Birdcage Thursdays does have narrative. It is the tale of a woman who has boxed herself into her retirement complex just as life has boxed her in to an endless retirement of craft projects and hobbies. She is on the verge of being kicked out because of her tendency to overcompensate, self-indulge, and hoard and her over-achieving daughter has to 'sort' her mother out. This is not a self-less tale. If the mother is kicked out it is the daughter who will have to deal with the consequences, and the mother must - on at least some level - know this is her mechanism for getting attention. Neverless it is a real problem, there is real threat, and the consequences impact the lowest and most significant level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need.

Throw into the mix a cockatiel whose mating partner is dead just as Helene's (Genevieve Picot) husband is dead, and who is fated to live out it's final years trapped in a cage alone just as Helene is trapped in amongst her boxes, and you have the ingredients for a story mired in pathos if handled by anyone of less skill than Long. Switching between the alienation of using numbers instead of character names, giving every character a name, and also having a narrator/chorus/co-participant this play breaks all the boundaries to get at the real, totally subjective, often absurd heart of these intense family dynamics and circumstances.

In order to realise writing of this type of newness and boldness it is important for the director to really understand the artist. Caitlin Dullard has known and worked with Long over many years including as Long's assistant director at DVA Theatre. The trust and collaboration is evident as some truly unexpected and yet powerful performance choices have been made. In particular the style of oration for the Narrator resembles a 45rpm record being played at 33rpm. This is a bold choice because traditionally the narrator is objectified and non-partisan. As well as commenting on the warping of time in moments of intense personal experience, the Narrator (Long) also sees and communicates with Helene. They are both (all three) taking this journey together, telling this story supported by each other, and experiencing these moments as human beings sharing this world.

The rapport and connection between Picot and Long is so intensely beautiful it almost makes your heart want to stop beating. The moments are brief, but the sense of togetherness and support is as essential to the tale as any of the more overt blocking or dialogue.

Sophia Constantine is a wonderfully energetic foil to Picot's stillness. Constantly circling the stage she is as much the reason for her mother's fort as she is earnestly trying to help her mother escape it. Constantine doesn't quite match the other two in character nuance, but her physicality is key to the work and as the cockatiel she is mesmerising.

What really lifts Birdcage Thursdays into a whole other stratosphere though, is the work between Long and Raya Slavin. Being a vocalist herself, Long has worked with Slavin to make the voice a part of the aural architecture of the world. Using spoken world, humming, sound processing, and composition the soundscape of this adventure adds layers of texture, truth, and unreality to the finely wrought architecture of the characters.

Birdcage Thursdays is beautifully majestic. It is work of now, not of yesterday. If you only understand realism and/or post-dramatics you will not appreciate this play. If you are able to even glimpse the era of post-truth you will understand and a new sense of the world will open up to you. It is personal, experiential, real, and fiction all at the same time. Are you ready for it?

4.5 Stars

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