Thursday, 10 April 2014

Flights of Fame: Birdland at the Royal Court

"Do you want to go and see 'A piercing new play looking at empathy, money and fame' - Birdland, it is at the Royal Court newish... I know it's a Monday but..."

It's fair to say our seats were pretty far back, but when you go online for the £10.00 day release tickets for a new play at 9.07 instead of dead on 9.00, that is loath to happen. Theatre-friend D and I were reasonably early and she was so suntanned in the greyness of rainy Sloane Square that I felt positively cement coloured next to her.

"India good was it..Let's get some wine... 
Also, I can't believe Peaches Geldof has just died, I nearly threw up on the way here. It's just so terrible."

"I looked after her dog once you know.. When I worked for that designer."

"I know.. Can you move under the alcove please it's raining quite a bit now... Isn't it weird that we feel so sad about it when we didn't even know her. I cried a bit and I felt guilty for crying, cos we don't like know her... Can I have my lighter back please"

This was how are evening started. Grey and morose. I knew it wouldn't be a cheery one either "the perils of fame" having been bandied around a bit in reference to Birdland. To be honest none of the plays I go to see seem to be that cheerful. The man behind the bar told us the set was impressive, though.. that was something. Indeed our seats were so far back and with both of us being blind as bats you see. It was like a Van Gough version.

"That's why we can't book last minute.. we're too vain to carry our specs around all the time..."

D's blinder than me...but we could make out the impressive stage from the start, all water - a sort of moat actually, blue lighting and upright wooden structures and I could make out the faces of the "company" of characters. You know thems... all in sunglasses and trendy outfits and signifying the mood around the lead character. Such a modern narrative tool but actually Shakespeare did it OK.

 And how did I not know Andrew Scott was playing the lead... I am such a fan of his acting and his weird, weird voice and face. Famous as Moriarty in Sherlock opposite beautiful Benedict and I remember him in the Hour too, but really he's a prolific theatre actor. He's got such a way with being evil and twisting his face and body up... such a physicality about him..

The play tells the tale of the last week of a very famous rockstar's third tour. Fame has already gripped this guy, there's no going back. He's bored, cruel, jumpy and slightly insane.


He treats money like water, he boredly copulates with any female that he tosses his eyes at.. Including his best friend's girlfriend who then kills herself. He takes a member of the female hotel staff from Moscow to Paris because he can.

His character is really very hard to sympathise with. Wired that he is. Consumed by fame that he is.

He hates the fame. Hates not knowing he is. Hates the photos and yet he loves it too. Loves his own power.

In a conversation with his father who's asking him for money he is shocked over he value of £1000.00 to his father. It's not uncharted territory.

Everything can be quantified. All worth can be quantified. Artistic worth. Human worth. Material worth. Everything. Some food is simply better than other food. Isn’t it? Some clothes are better than other clothes. Aren’t they?” - Paul

Of course he ends up in a sticky end.. Sleeping with a minor, facing jail time, owing his record company millions and do unable to quit.

What is incredible is both the acting of Andrew Scott and the wonderful set. As the perils of fame suck Paul further into its clutches, the stage submerges, tilted into the surrounding water.

Other cast members are ghostly as if unreal and we live through his manic mind, never sure if what we believe to be happening actually is.

The physicality that Scott displays as Paul is all part of it as well, jerkily dancing throughout. The bird that he is, pulled by the winds of fame like a dark Icarus, too close to the desired prize, or the black swan whose lost all memory of the white.

Overall I would recommend this play to anyone who is interested in the nuances of fame or who wants to see an excitingly staged production with a lead actor that takes up the stage with his entire physical presence. Drugs, sex, ghosts, suicide, paedophilia, blackmail, loneliness it has it all. Who'd want that. 

It wasn't cheerful is for sure. We sat soggily in the bar next door after the performance, not perky, watching Sloane Square go home, thankful we weren't famous. 

Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Carrie Cracknell
3 April - 31 May


The Royal Court
50-51 Sloane Square
020 7565 5000

Images (c) Richard H. Smith
Video (c) The Royal Court

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