BIRD (Sherman Cymru & Manchester Royal Exchange)

“You know what Ava means? Bird. That’s what you are. You’re a little bird.”

 

Winner of a Judges Award in the 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, this is the World Premiere of BIRD a stunningly poetic new play by Welsh playwright Katherine Chandler. Directed by Sherman Cymru’s Artistic Director, Rachel O’Riordan, this is a story of unstoppable friendship.

 

Playing at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff and Manchester Royal Exchange, May – June 2016.

 

Ava and Tash are up on a cliff. Looking out at the flocking birds. And at their future. On the cusp of adulthood and leaving the care home they’ve always known, the friends test their freedoms and practise living in the world. Ava confronts the mother she left behind. Tash looks for a home. And both girls live dangerously with the men who surround them.

Raw, delicate and bold. This is a story about growing up outside a family but inside the fiercest of friendships.

 

★★★★ The Guardian, Lyn Gardner: 'A fragile teenage tale with a fiercely beating heart':

O’Riordan coaxes terrific performances from Henshaw and Sheehy as the teenagers who have nobody except each other to catch them if they fall. Henshaw pecks at each word like a nervous sparrow, skittering over the stage with a gawky energy. Sheehy’s Tash, with her strong belief in parallel worlds, manages the trick of seeming both like an exuberant 13-year-old and as ancient as the surrounding cliffs. Allen is touching, too, as the bereaved Dan, comically despairing that his life is “ruled by my dick”, and who adds gloomily: “I’m hoping that fades but I’m not betting on it.” It’s as if Dan knows that his obsession with sex is simply a substitute for meaningful contact with another human being.

Grief and loss run through the play, which is compassionate enough to make us understand Claire and not just judge her. The piece overdoes the bird metaphors with its talk of fragile sparrows, but the writing has a blasted beauty. If occasionally it’s a mite too schematic, that’s forgivable in an evening that – like its teenage protagonists – is a small, fragile thing with a fiercely beating heart.

 

★★★★ The Stage, Rosemary Waugh:

Henshaw catapults between crumbling, desperate childishness and vast, screaming anger. Grasping the neck of a vodka bottle with the sticky-fingered grip of a kid with a Coca-Cola, she is both older and younger than her 16 years.Connor Allen plays their teenage friend Dan as something of a gentle giant. He is the one to finally reduce Ava to tears with the words, “I like you”. Guy Rhys as Lee, the older man who provides Ava and Tash with alcohol, has the ability to make one well-timed lick of his thumb uniquely disturbing.

Uncompromising in its fury, Chandler’s work is comparable to Gary Owen’s in showing one individual raging against a hard and uncaring world.

Manchester Theatre Awards, Kevin Bourke:

This co-production between the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Sherman Theatre faces high expectations – and lives up to them.

It’s a tough and challenging, occasionally even sordid, tale that touches on hot-button contemporary topics such as child abuse, suicide, and a care system in crisis, as well as scheming, predatory males and feebly facilitating females. What singles out this powerful and touching production, though, as being far from just another head-shaking, issue-based story is that there’s also real love and a fierce, touching friendship at the heart of it all as well as a poetic quality that gives wings to the proceedings.

It’s all held together by a remarkable, charismatic performance from young theatre newcomer (although she’s already had a lot of TV experience) Georgia Henshaw as Ava, a fifteen-year-old on the cusp of adulthood. Struggling to find her own way through the jungle of family relationships and love, without getting trapped by the likes of manipulative “cab driver” Lee (Guy Rhys), she relies on her care home friend, Tash (Rosie Sheehy). But sometimes Tash can’t really be there, for instance when Ava has to confront her deeply conflicted mum, Claire (Siwan Morris), who’s young and far from worldly-wise herself, or when she has to deal with the nervous advances of seventeen-year-old Dan (Connor Allen).

Raw yet delicate, this is a gripping production that prickles with danger and delusion yet fairly pulses with love, life and laughter through the tears.

★★★★ The Reviews Hub, Stephen M Hornby:

Georgia Henshaw is fantastic as Ava.  She shows a young woman who is naturally full of joy, trust and intelligence, as expressed in the scenes with her friend Tash, and then allows glimpses of a damaged and desperate girl to break through in her scenes with her mother and Lee.  It is a complex, nuanced performance that Henshaw makes heart-breaking without any hint of sentimentality.  The rest of cast are strong.  Guy Rhys is chilling as Lee, and Siwan Morris makes explicable the terrible choice she has made as a mother dealing with the secrets of Ava’s past. 

British Theatre Guide, Othniel Smith:

Bird is dominated by Georgia Henshaw’s achingly raw portrayal of the ostensibly fragile Ava: all child-woman confusion and sparrow-like jitteriness. One can readily recognise in her the girls from newspaper headlines from Rotherham, Oxford etc, who, desperate for affection and acceptance, put their trust in the wrong authority figures and find themselves in deep trouble. Possible salvation comes in the shape of naïve (but not that naïve), local youth, Dan—Connor Allen, the only character over whom Ava finds herself able to exert any degree of control.

More consciously manipulative is the older Lee—Guy Rhys—the wide-boy taxi-driver with a criminal record who, unlike Dan, seems immune to her sexual allure, but may well have other ideas in mind.We realise fairly early on that Ava’s relationship with fellow care-home resident Tash contains elements of wish-fulfilment; Rosie Sheehy is heartbreaking as Ava’s sole support. [...] All of the characterisations are complex and ambiguous—none more so than Siwan Morris’s brittle, conflicted Claire, who, we are relieved to learn, seems to come close to holding out a lifeline.

Rachel O’Riordan’s energetic direction emphasises Ava’s vitality and child-like optimism, and Chandler’s script is full of clever avian references and metaphors; Ava yearns for the freedom to fly, but is also subject to the cruel natural impulses of those who surround her.Bird is an emotionally draining seventy-five-minute journey through a difficult time in an impossible life. Still, the heroine is an irrepressible spirit who refuses to be a passive victim, and the author leaves us on a tentatively hopeful note.Following the Cardiff run, Bird plays at the co-producing venue in Manchester. The tale may be tragically familiar, but it is told with great warmth and freshness, and Henshaw’s performance should not be missed.

 

★★★★  The Reviews Hub, Jaclyn Martin:

The main character, Ava, is that “bird who has fallen from the nest”. With an impressive array of acting credits to her name, Georgia Henshaw tackles this demanding role. She manages to capture sparrow-like mannerisms and attribute them to the character through movement and the twittering, fast-paced pattern of her speech. The tough, vulgar bravado she adopts does not hide her fragility, innocence and sweetness. It is almost painful to watch her have to deal with things no child should have to – including a tirade of abuse and accusation from the mother she tries to reconcile with, played with unrelenting honesty by Siwan Morris.

The scenes between Ava and Lee (Guy Rhys) held the most intrigue, with lots going on under the surface. Initially, he seems to offer an escape from her troubles, only to bring them more starkly to light.

 

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AVA Georgia Henshaw
CLAIRE Siwan Morris
DAN Connor Allen
TASH Rosie Sheehy
LEE Guy Rhys
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