It seems almost pointless writing up Birdland given that it’s closing in less than two weeks: but I just have to stand up and say HOORAY! for a show that makes me feel like we are truly living in a golden age of theater. I can almost imagine fans of German theater saying, “Oh, but British theater is all so realistic!” or perhaps other people saying, “Oh, but this show is gloomy!” but to me, any play that makes me experience real feelings, that makes me, for example, genuinely embarrassed for actors reading a script as if I were actually listening to a real conversation between two people in a semi-public place … while, in reality, I was just watching people who were being paid to speak lines which they had said again and again night after night … WHEW!
Now admittedly there’s a bit of typecasting in putting poor old Andrew Scott in the role of yet another whiny git we’d just love to slap (as Paul, an egotistical front man for some kind of chipper pop band), but then, wow, look, there’s the utterly amazing Daniel Cerquiera just seamlessly playing so many utterly different roles … Paul’s smarmy band manager, the distraught father of a suicided groupie, and Paul’s completely grounded and rather sad dad … I mean, where has Cerquiera been hiding? He’s the kind of perfectly formed actor that the London theatrical scene seems to be exhaling through its gills, so perfect at so many roles that, even with the (mere) six actors on stage for nearly the entire two hours (I could see them! right there!) I kept thinking some other guy had shown up to do whichever role I was watching. I mean, listen to this speech Cerquiera made as the father whose daughter has died, it’s going to sound so trite but I have to quote it:
[S]he’s in my head all the time. Do you see? I feel heavy with sadness. I feel like my clothes are heavy with sadness. The physical effort of getting up in the morning is crippling to me.
I felt heartbroken listening to him say that. For God’s sake, I was just listening to an actor! On a stage that didn’t even pretend to be realistic! (Actually it was like the Old Vic’s Much Ado set was recycled by someone who was determined to make a point that it could be used in a way that was not shit, with a bonus “drowning” metaphor thrown in to make the entire experience not just a little bit more beautiful but, I have to say it, profound.) How could I lose my sense of separation? He was speaking words that were WRITTEN for him to say (by Mr Simon Stephens, and full credits for your plot twists, sir), I shouldn’t have felt a thing.
And it was all … perfect. And it wasn’t some shit celebrity rehash of Shakespeare that nobody really needed to see or put on. I was fully in the moment even when the idiot six seats over had her MP3 player go off late in the show. (I imagined throwing it into the canal surrounding the set. A fitting end, I think.)
At least, well, I can feel good knowing that this show is pretty well sold out for the whole run, like it ought to be. Five stars, baby, five stars: it doesn’t get any better than this. I can prove it with numbers, and numbers never lie.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday May 19th and cost me all of TEN POUNDS, baby. Ten pounds isn’t even real money. Well, not to Paul, anyway. Maybe to his dad. If they were actually really people, which they’re not. I think. I kind of wasn’t sure for a bit. Anyway, Birdland runs through May 31st. Please try really hard to go see it.)