(Rated 4/5 )
‘Birdland’ by Simon Stephens – who previously adapted Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ for the stage – is described as a play about empathy, money and fame. The second two are very immediately obvious as subjects of the play: Rock Star Paul played by Andrew Scott – probably best known recently as Moriaty in ‘Sherlock’ – is at the height of his fame on a massive world tour, talking to anyone who will listen about bucketloads of money and material wealth and worth whilst buying anything and everything he wants, including people, with ‘his’ money and fame. Given that he doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of any of this the empathy subject is less obvious, but I guess that is one of the crucial points – it’s about empathy by exploring the corrupting effects of focusing too far away from empathy and humanity and more on superficial pleasures, which in the end have no worth at all. The play is also highly empathic in its treatment of the personal, the subtext, beneath the superficiality of the words and the dynamics of the relationships between the characters.
The staging is a lot of fun and very active. The ‘set’ mainly consists of 6 chairs - for the 6 actors playing between them a total of 18 characters - and an archway, which the actors’ and audience’s imaginations turn into whatever it needs to be in context. Later we have water gradually flooding the stage, which alarmed me a little reflecting the dangers and drowning-feeling later in the play as reality hits and fantasy fades.
Andrew Scott is very impressive and very ably supported by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Daniel Cerqueira, Yolanda Kettle and Charlotte Randle all of whom play a range of characters – gifts as acting challenges in character development – and Alex Price as Paul’s friend and fellow musician Johnny. This movement of actors into different people and of all the props by the actors rather than stage-hands, also endow the play with a lot of energy – again empathic to the life-style associated with the music business. The core of the play is the relationship between Paul and Johnny and their – yes sorry going to use this word – journey together and apart.
There is such a great deal going on in this play – so many aspects explored. Well worth a look especially if you have an interest in the entertainment business or thinking of going into it. It may have you wanting to think again.