For the Queen of the Birds, her nest has become a memento mori of sorts. Less a reminder of the inevitability of death as it is the knowledge she has more days behind her than in front. She observes the world, where birds like her are not as numerous, in a society less supportive or welcoming to them. She begins to examine her past, in a sometimes wistful, sometimes urgent, story. Through song and metaphor, the Queen interrogates her choices, ambitions, sacrifices – both in the past and the present.
Christine Croyden has written a beautiful script, which has coalesced with songwriter Ella Filar’s music, and Elizabeth Walley’s direction, to become something quite remarkable.
The pneumatised bones of this fable were provided by the band – Ella Filar, Martin Zakharov, and Sophie Kinston. Clad in bowler hats like they stepped out of a René Magritte painting, their music was a kind of sonic ferment. Wonderfully unpredictable, the music didn’t link Christine’s passages of text so much as it did lift them. Ce n’est pas un birdsong.
Navigating the traverse stage was a cast of four, led by Margot Knight as the Queen. Whether perched at one end of the space, telling her story to the audience, engaging with Sybil (Charlotte Fox), her younger self, or attempting to espouse the merits of Edward Albee to two fledgling male upstarts (Rhys James & Nathaniel Schneider) – Margot’s performance was marvellous to watch.
Charlotte was equally impressive in her turn as Sybil. Her presence on-stage and excellent singing made for a captivating performance, working well with the others, especially Margot. Rhys and Nathaniel played their multiple roles in entertaining fashion. It’s a credit to their ability as actors, as well as the script, that they didn’t come across as merely fulfilling a function.
The fact we live in a time where some still choose to debate the merits of feminism lend the show more than a frustrating sense of relevance. Yet, by the end, there is a palatable sense of optimism and strength, which is the perfect feeling to wrap an audience with as they leave into a brisk Melbourne evening. This was theatrical seduction. A rite of spring.
The World Without Birds: A musical fable
La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Season continues to 6 November 2016
Information and Bookings: www.melbournewriterstheatre.org.au
Image: Charlotte Fox features in The World Without Birds: A musical fable – courtesy of Melbourne Writers’ Theatre
Review: David Collins