THE EARLY BIRD
by Leo Butler.
Finborough Theatre above Finborough Brasserie 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 27 February 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reduced full-price tickets online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 February.
Torment of the man and woman in a glass booth.
Three years after its Belfast premiere (by Ransom Theatre Company), Natural Shocks bring Leo Butler’s brief, intense play to London. And shocks it provides, as everyone sits around a central glass-casing where a man and woman are together in semi-transparency. Which becomes complete visibility as the lights go up, and they’re exposed to public view.
As people are when disaster suddenly strikes. In this case, it’s the unexplained disappearance of their child Kimberley. In such a situation every detail, each peculiarity in life, usually sustained by the momentum of routine, becomes open to question, and self-questioning. Notably Debbie’s habit of telling time by TV programmes. It’s innocent enough, pleasantly quirky under normal circumstances, but seeming absurd when up against the tremendousness of her child disappearing.
In such a situation formerly private lives are opened wide (and – this actor and this actress, they’re actually – in real life I mean – married. Just like in the play. Try avoiding a measure of voyeurism in knowing that as they manoeuvre closely in their glass cubicle).
Meanwhile, like people boiling in a hothouse of public expectation – they’re news now, and that means they’re expected to provide entertainment – their lives change complexion and their relationship boils and bubbles. Sooner or later the stress, the guilt, the publicity shrivels the relationship.
Debbie begins expressing things through her daughter’s voice, possessed by the child she’s lost. Jack separates into his anxieties. Complaints that might have festered in a corner somewhere flare in a flambé of recriminations; when she starts acting out his infidelities with dolls from a toy-chest (which, also, she almost sinks into at one point – the comforts of childhood, the fantasy of the child back home) we’re into the territory of social workers encouraging children to open-up about abuse.
Yet, though the ingredients coalesce and new features form, it’s with a boil-and-bubble fury where nothing can be handled, and nothing definite’s left at the end. Fascinating though moments are, they never coalesce. Perhaps life, or these lives – lives in this situation – are like that. But it leaves the tongue hanging out for greater clarity.
Debbie: Catherine Cusack.
Jack: Alex Palmer.
Director: Donnacadh O’Briain.
Lighting: Paul Keogan.
Sound/Music: Philip Stewart.