Katherine Chandler’s heart-rending new play is the first co-production between Sherman Theatre and Royal Exchange Theatre. More than just a piece of theatre, Bird is a means of giving a voice to a disadvantaged group who still suffer, all too often, from a lack of understanding, support and prioritisation in current society. Bird forces us to think and feel, to emphasis with the suffering endured to push a person to breaking point. It is tragic and intense and downright uncomfortable at times, but it is real and honest.
Georgia Henshaw strips herself bare as fifteen year old Ava. Careening between giddy, childish excitement and sexualised, wayward aggression, Henshaw screams vulnerability. On the verge of being forced to leave the care home in which she has spent the past three years with best friend Tash (Rosie Sheehy), we watch Ava following an increasingly dangerous path with a number of different men, willingly putting herself into a repetitive pattern of abuse in the search for someone who will give her a sense of self-worth. Having nothing to give but her body, Ava repeatedly offers herself to the men who surround her – “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”
Two very different male characters feature in the play. Connor Allen perfectly embodies a lost and confused teenage boy called Dan, complete with raging hormones, transforming someone who could potentially have become quite crass, into a character extremely endearing in his sincerity and openness. Allen’s delivery of Chandler’s lines is superb, lending some gratefully received humour to an otherwise very dark piece of theatre.
On the other end of the spectrum, Guy Rhys plays the far more sinister Lee with a quietly, disconcerting edge which slowly builds throughout the performance. Lee has a cynical outlook on the world, exploring the ever growing issue of our current obsession with technology and stating the disturbingly poignant fact that “We use our phones so we don’t have to talk to no one”.
The scenes between Henshaw and Sheehy provide a perfect balance to Ava’s self-destructive, out of control behaviour, reminding us that despite her desperate attempts to appear grown-up, Ava is still just a little girl. Tinged with sadness for the loss of Ava’s “beautiful, unadulterated innocence”, their interactions contain the sweetness only people playing children can pull off; holding hands, stroking each other’s hair and rolling on the floor, tickling each other into hysterics.
An element of fantasy runs through the play, each character telling a story to shelter themselves from the harsh reality in which they find themselves, one of the most damaging of which is the lie Ava’s mother, Claire (Siwan Morris), has told herself to protect her and her family. The dynamic between Morris and Henshaw is charged with an energy and emotion that feels incredibly convincing, and is amplified by this small studio space in which the play takes place.
There are, however, issues which slightly hinder the production; the timeline of events is somewhat confused, and the rapid flow and ebb of characters at the beginning of the play makes it difficult to settle in to the atmosphere and characterisation.
Sherman Theatre’s Artistic Director, Rachel O’Riordan, is fast securing a reputation for plays which transcend entertainment to provoke empathy and awareness for those whose voices are not heard often enough. Bird only enforces that with its bold and unforgiving spotlight on the tragedy that befalls the innocent when no one is there to catch them fall.
(Images used with kind permission)