Birdboy is an original piece offered by The Wet Weather Ensemble, a young Perth theatre collective who aim to draw upon their diverse interests as writers, musicians, visual artists and puppeteers to fuse together works that defy categorization.
This is an admirable mission to pursue, but perhaps one that is better in theory than in practice, as this approach can often times lead to an unfocused, confusing result.
Birdboy unfortunately suffers from this defect, and although there are many ideas contained in the work which are worthy of exploration, the troupe tried to cover too much ground with this one-act.
The story, as I understood it, is based on a true account of young Russian boy who was found being raised like a bird in a cage by his mother. Here the group has expanded the story by introducing a lonely young female neighbor Angela (Alicia Oskaya) who discovers the mother’s dead body and, consequently, the young man (aged for dramatic purposes) confined in his cage. Although it’s an initially frightening encounter for both Angela and Birdboy (St. John Cowcher), they eventually find a way to communicate and she brings him home with her.
From here, their relationship develops in a timid manner, but they are both haunted by their past: Birdboy by his warped “mother,” (Ian Sinclair) who has paranoid delusions about the city’s telephone lines, and Angela by her ex-fiance and the spectre of her unused wedding dress. The mother rises from the dead and becomes part of the story in either flashback or ghostly form (it’s not clear in the telling). Finally, after Birdboy and Angela consummate their relationship, the mother jealously interferes and compels Birdboy to destroy the telephone system by killing himself at the local power station.
This is probably the bare bones of the story, but the action that should flesh out this tale’s skeleton seems to waste away, rather than help to build a solid form. The show is more preoccupied with drawing metaphors than it is in making a clear, discernible point. The performances are for the most part good, but each actor exists in his or her own sphere of reality, and they don’t ever really come to a consensus of style. The wistful a cappella birdsongs, sung by the show’s chorus of one, Moana Lutton, and interspersed throughout the piece, distract rather than propel the story forward and there are also a few moments of dead air that stall the show’s forward motion.
One of the show’s best qualities is the work from designer Rohan Harnett, which is full of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Everyday objects like a kettle, a ratty mattress, some milk crates, newspaper, an umbrella and a few bits of string, are transformed into puppets and multi-functioning set pieces.
Perhaps Birdboy would benefit from a bit more editing and streamlining. A simpler story told more concisely and clearly with the aid of these clever design elements could help this show take flight.