by John Donnelly.
Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 17 November 2012.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Francis Grin 15 November.
Missing that final punch, yet engaging nonetheless.
I remember the London riots. By that I mean, I remember watching online footage of the riots, safely from my own bedroom. And still, there will always be that endless curiosity to know what it was really like to be in the midst of it, as groups of people paraded through the streets in what looked like the beginnings of a confused revolution.
Burning Bird by John Donnelly explores the events leading up to teenager Daisy’s participation in the riots. Although her involvement begins innocently enough, things spiral out of hand as Daisy is forced to participate in the vicious beating of a corner-shop owner. In the end, the teenager returns home a changed person.
Director Esther Baker effectively blends kitchen-sink realism with Brechtian techniques of alienation to produce a show which is both engaging and political. While the characters are believable enough to transfix us, the actors often switch in and out of their roles, reminding the audience that this is a performance with a political aim.
Most enjoyable in this play were the honest performances and the humour. Protagonist Daisy, wonderfully played by Simone James, has a heartbreaking innocence to her. She is both highly fragile and stubbornly curious at the same time, making her very endearing to watch (even when she’s at her worst).
The production also has some sharp humour – memorably, a scene in the sport shop, where looters suddenly show a surprising level of courtesy towards one another, as a young ‘thug’ thoughtfully helps a woman reach the four boxes of sneakers which she is about to steal.
Having said this, it could be pushed further in terms of its political power. The play’s climax, where Daisy spits on the corner-shop owner, somehow falls short of its potential impact. The questions that rise in this play, such as exploring the factors that would drive someone to riot, seem to lack interrogation in the story.
Still, I admire a company such as such Synergy Theatre Project, who continue to produce work with young people (and in this case, prisoners and ex-prisoners), fostering their power and potential through the stage.
Daisy: Simone James.
Tyrone: Valentine Olukoga.
Bev/Yvonne: Debbie Samuel.
Morell/Roy: Michael Smith.
Mr Akhtar/ Mr Johnson: Anil Kumar.
Miss Lyons/ Jacqui: Catherine Nix-Collins.
Director: Esther Baker.
Designer: Katy McPhee.
Lighting: Shane Burke.
Sound: Sarah Weltman.
Costume: Sophia Simensky.