Monday, 16 June 2014

Birdland at The Royal Court Theatre review

 Having always been a massive fan of Simon Stephens’ work (especially ‘Punk Rock’ in which I actually played the part of Lily last year), I was so excited to see that he had written a new play, only to be performed at my favourite theatre, starring arguably one of the most talented actors of our generation, Andrew Scott (you might know him as Moriarty from the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’)! ‘Birdland’ is a haunting depiction of the destructive nature of celebrity culture and how damaging so much power can have when placed on one person. This person in question is international rock star, Paul, who becomes increasingly mentally unstable due to his exposure to too much money, sex and power, ultimately destroying everything that was ever human about him, his relationships, his interests and his morals.

But before I get started, I have to mention how brilliant the Royal Court’s student ticket prices are, at only £10 a ticket for any seat in the house, it is a fantastic way to encourage young people to experience new theatre without being more pricey than the cinema but far more educational.

Simon Stephens is famous for his inspiring rants about the corruption of society and the imperfection of the human condition. This was apparent right from the word go when rock star, Paul, launches into a fantastic monologue about how, as humans, we are the best we have ever been right now, which perhaps because it is utterly true, is momentarily terrifying. Stephens explores themes of the corruption of money and fame, how destructive celebrity culture is and how impressionable we are to things we perceive as important (maybe because of the impact of the media). This creates a setting that the audience are all too familiar with, evoking sympathy and a serious change in attitude.

As for Andrew Scott, I can’t think of anyone more brilliant for the role of Paul, who is energetic, weird and strangely loveable. His ability to animate a character with such vivacity and then to suddenly switch to stone cold, causing the audience to fear what he is capable of due to his wildly unpredictable behaviour, was exciting and truly proved Andrew Scott as one of the best actors of our generation. He is always filled with this energy that feels so real and present in the moment, while also connecting with the audience in a way that is sometimes incredibly personal and can also be very distant.

However, I found myself equally as blown away by the entire supporting cast, with not a weak link to be seen. While some conveyed their ability through simplistic roles, such as Paul’s best friend Johnny, who, despite not saying much, probably connects with the audience the most as he has this comfortable silence that makes him the most loveable character in the play. On the other hand, brilliant multi-rolling can be seen from Yolanda Kettle and Daniel Cerqueira who take on around 5 roles each and master them all expertly.

‘Birdland’ is the kind of play that makes you want to lie in bed for a week and just think. So much thought went into the production that I don’t feel like it’s fair to only see it once, but again and again. For example, throughout the play the entire stage was slowly flooding with water which the cast threw all of their dirty litter into. My understanding of this was that it was a link to global warming and how we are creating our own destruction (which we can theoretically undo by being more economically friendly) which was reflected in Paul’s downfall as it was heavily implied that as a society, our idolisation and obsession with one individual can be deadly. Therefore, as a society were are detrimental to our own survival and wellbeing. Personally, my favourite moment in the play was when Johnny ran outside from a stage door that was actually on the stage. This meant that we could see the fences and outside equipment from the theatre which really solidified how real the message of this play is, making us, as an audience, implicit.

After the hour-and-twenty-minute-act was over, I felt so deeply affected by the performance, which impacted the way I still perceive those in a position of power and the Hollywood culture (though ironically I am writing this review on a plane to Hollywood) as a victim of fame rather than ‘making it’. It has taught me that my passion for acting and theatre is something true that comes from the heart and that fame and fortune have little importance in the grand scheme of things, if anything they are a destructive force. After the play, I noticed a huddle of around 30 fans (I’m guessing of ‘Sherlock’) waiting by the stage doors to meet Andrew Scott and felt bewildered that they had been in the same room as me, learning about the corruption of obsession with celebrities. Were they not watching the same play? Or did they not connect with it the same way I did? Perhaps our obsession with idolising others has come so far that it is irreversible and we are past the point of no return. It’s sad but definitely worth thinking about. I know I’m a very small, insignificant dot amongst 7 billion other dots, but I feel truly motivated to make a difference in response to this play and I hope that I am not alone in this because ‘Birdland’ is just as much a political play as it is entertaining.