The Cagebirds

Fri 5th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Rebecca Tatlow

at 08:00 on 8th Aug 2011

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Six self-absorbed birds sit in their cage isolated from one another and only communicating with their 'Mistress'. Oblivious to one another and unconcerned with the world outside they sing the same old tunes until the Wild One arrives. Campton's 'The Cagebirds' is the allegorical story of what happens when routine is shattered and the outside world demands that a decision must be made.

All the birds have obsessions corresponding with human motivations like greed, vanity, prejudice and fear. These have been well adapted by the cast to marry the dialogue with the avian nature of the characters. However, the political nature of the play is not left ambiguous but explicitly underlined by references to voting, democracy and petitions. These were, I felt, unnecessary and jarring as it disrupted the actors' careful characterisation.

The casts' movement was excellent and realistically captured the birds' fluttering. In fact it was so good that there would have been no confusion even without the brightly painted faces. Particularly noteworthy was the nervous energy of Lindsey Henderson who played Twitting a bird inactive through fear and indecision.

The central performance of the Wild One (Katy Syme) was zealous but I found at points that, when set among the minute motions of the other birds, her energetic movements appeared slightly clumsy by virtue of being the only action on the stage and the heavy boots which were part of her costume didn't help. It was the moments when she was still that stood out as maintaining the best balance between untamed animal complaint and human protestation.

The play addresses important issues such as the responsibility which comes with liberty and, although empathy is invited for the birds bound by fear, there is no doubt that they are wrong to remain in their cage. As a rule, I dislike declamatory plays and agitprop but 'The Cagebirds' managed for the most part to remain unoppressive in it's reinforcement of the political message and seemed more a reflection upon motivation than a call to arms. There were some weaknesses which I felt lay inherent in the script but far more important in this production are the characters of the birds themselves as understood through their movement and interaction.

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Ryan Sarsfield

at 09:09 on 8th Aug 2011

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Whilst birds-in-a-cage as an allegory of society may be considered trite, the Liverpool University Drama Society makes a decent effort of David Campton’s limited one act play: a mix between monologue and physically based theatre ‘The Cagebirds’ aims to explore the notion of freedom and ‘to what extent a prison is a sanctuary’.

Director, Gemma Sapp has opted for a very minimalist feel to the set and this does connect well with the non-naturalistic script – there are only two boxes on stage with lighting effects being used sparsely.

With the play being metaphorically set in a cage each actor simultaneously adopts the mannerisms of a bird whilst providing an easily identifiable human stereotype through monologues. The bird-like twitching of all the actors was suitably convincing throughout. The individual characterization of each different ‘bird’ is the strongest aspect of the performance and the difficult combination of avian movement with distinctly human monologue was handled well – the cage conceit was maintained without impeding on speech.

As somebody who isn’t normally drawn towards physical and interpretive styles of theatre I was impressed by the use of movement around the stage: it was fluid and well directed, ensuring that monologues didn’t feel static. Luke Barton as the perpetually pessimistic ‘Gloom’ had a particularly impressive control over his monologues. Also notable was Lindsey Henderson (playing ‘Twitting’, the apolitical ‘floating voter’) who was good in her constant nervous movement about the stage, although at times she lost a little clarity in her speech through her excessive jitteriness.

Katy Syme took the lead as the ‘Wild One’ who is thrown into ‘the cage’ and sets about trying to shake the other ‘birds’ out of their solipsistic worlds. Her job is clearly more challenging than the others. She is charged with both delivering monologues whilst railing against the ignorance of her fellow captives, all whilst running about the stage in a rage; she makes a decent effort of it, especially considering some of the horribly clichéd lines she has.

The biggest flaw in ‘The Cagebirds’ is the script itself. Whilst attempting to be politically provocative there are too many lines which feel contrived. The whole discourse of a naïve fledgling petulantly raving against a ‘phony’ world, considering this is a student production, is just a little too affected for my tastes. Lines such as ‘Must I be caged because you lack willpower?’ sounded, understandably, hollow, and Syme’s intensity felt forced at times. The script tries hard but is ultimately superficial – there’s none of the radical punch it needs to succeed.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of potential in the cast - it’s just a shame that Campton’s script falls short. Liverpool University Drama Society makes a decent effort of a poor play.

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