I wrote a review on a piece of theatre I went to see for a competition. I didn’t win. Here it is. It’s a bit liiiiiiitle bit smug Evening Standard-y but it is my first review/haven’t written anything longer than 140 characters in a while:
I am suspicious of a play without an interval. Why don’t they have an interval? Is it so bad we will all want to escape halfway through and never leave the house again? I, personally, like to break up a piece of theatre with an overpriced bag of Kettle Chips and a minute glass of wine - so it goes without saying that me and ‘Three Birds’ did not get off to the best start.
However I was slowly won over when I realised Janice Okoh had possibly the best venue in London for her Bruntwood Prize winning ‘Three Birds’. An old library, The Bush Theatre creates a secret and intimate environment for the audience from the moment they enter. This suits Okoh’s play perfectly, as the audience are planted straight in the sibling’s living room and do not leave for ninety (interval-less) minutes.
'Three Birds' revolves around three siblings coping with suddenly living on their own in South London. It is a story of loyalty and survival. As the story unfolds, the audience feel right at the center of their situation, not just their living arrangement. Everytime the performance teeters dangerously towards becoming unbearably sad, Okoh throws in a silly joke and the audience respond with beside themselves laughter. Something tiny, such as the three main characters can all be referred to as 'T’, releases enough tension for the play to stay just on the side of an enjoyable night out.
As the children are forced to let Dr Feelgood and Ms Jenkins into their private surroundings, the audience are let in on the truth. Phenomenal acting performances particularly from Susan Wokoma, who plays 9 year old Tanika, make the audience root for the children even as the grizzly truth unfolds and becomes almost impossible to watch. Though perhaps it would not help them, everyone in the room wants the children to stay together and feels anger at society for wanting to split them up. Society is represented through Ms Jenkins, she feels she has to patronise a very uninterested Tionne with her sock puppet to get her point across, and we feel she is the one who does not get it.
Although one explicit action by Tanika at the end of the play is not necessary, and perhaps takes away from the previous eighty five minutes, overall the play has no definitive ending - and this works. Tanya Rodner’s adaptation of ‘Vernon God Little’ demonstrated a plot can be bleak, full of despair and a clever use of lighting, timing and music can make it hilarious and uplifting. Janice Okoh however demonstrates a plot can be bleak, full of despair, and clever tricks do not have to be used in order to make it uplifting. With her ninety minute production she breaks the repetitive pattern of theatre and all story telling.
Okoh creates a type of theatre we desperately need more of. It is accessible and intimate, much like the library that is the venue for ‘Three Birds’.