I have been mulling over whether to post my thoughts about Birdland whilst previews are still continuing. In the end it was after seeing a disappointing play later in the week and wishing I was back at Birdland that I knew I had to post something about it. If there are any dramatic changes after press night I will update this blog after my next trip to see it.
This exciting new play by the supremely talented Simon Stephens (most recently Seawall and adaptations of A Doll’s House and Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time) draws us in to the word of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He lives in a bubble of hotel rooms, clubs, arenas and backstage rooms and everyone knows who he is. Everyone except him that is. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore?
Over the course of almost two straight hours Birdland delves in to Paul’s existence, as we see how he is slowly beginning to lose control of his world and his mind. We watch as he robotically gives the same answer over and over again to interviews, flirts with women, cruelly plays with people’s emotions for his own amusement, but we also see him playful with his friend Johnny and affectionate towards his father. For me, the beauty of this play is how well rounded a person Paul is. He does some terrible things in the play and treats people (including those closest to him) cruelly. However I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Simon Stephens has created a very real character who comes to life so vividly.
Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage, whether its an intimate reading or short play such as Simon Stephens’ beautiful Seawall or a sweeping epic play in the form of Emperor & Galilean (not to mention his perfect pairing with Tom Burke in Design For Living) and he gives an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moves from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott is more than up to the task. He also displays some impressive dance moves – can we have him, Tom Hiddleston and Ben Whishaw compete for a slickest moves award?!
Alex Price is very good as Johnny, who as Paul’s old friend and bandmate has a close bond with him, but struggles to put up with his actions. The rest of the cast each rotate through multiple characters and I particularly liked Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Jenny, the woman we hope will bring normalcy to Paul’s mixed up world and Daniel Cerqueira’s dry humoured manager David, always on hand to fix Paul’s messes. The minimal staging perfectly suits the play as Paul’s life blends in to one endless, disorientating blur and the choice of how to emphasise how his life is slipping away from his control is very effective indeed – in fact it was so subtle early on that it took me a while to even notice (no spoilers from me – you’ll have to see for yourselves).
For me, Birdland encapsulates just how incredible theatre can be – it transported me to another place and I left the theatre buzzing with excitement after seeing something new and powerful and I am counting the days until I return to see it again. If you can get to the Royal Court to see this production book a ticket now, as it won’t be long before it sells out.
Birdland runs until 31 May 2014 at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs with availability from 19th April (and all Tickets for Mondays are £10 sold online on the day).