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Review: Bird, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

June 13, 2016 Arts, Theatre Comments Off on Review: Bird, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Bird

Katherine Chandler’s coming-of-age tale was the winner of a Judges’ Award in the 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. Its first production is directed by Rachel O’Riordan, now artistic director of Sherman Theatre Cymru, whose notable productions for the old Library Theatre Company have included A Christmas Carol, Gates of Gold and Grimm Tales.

So this co-production between the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Sherman Theatre faces inevitably high expectations – and lives up to them.

It’s a tough and challenging, occasionally even sordid, tale that touches on hot-button contemporary topics such as child abuse, suicide and a care system in crisis, as well as scheming, predatory males and feebly facilitating females. What singles out this powerful and touching production, though, as being far from just another head-shaking, issue-based story, is that there’s also real love and a fierce, touching friendship at the heart of it all as well as a poetic quality that gives wings to the proceedings.

As O’Riordan points out: “Bird is a play that achieves something vital. It puts the voices of vulnerable young women at the centre of the narrative. It makes us, as the audience, acknowledge that we allow the disadvantaged young to be ignored, marginalised and disregarded.”

Bird,” she insists, “makes us listen. Bird asks us to think.”

It’s all held together by a remarkable, charismatic performance from young theatre newcomer (although she’s already had a lot of TV experience) Georgia Henshaw as Ava, a 15-year-old on the cusp of adulthood. Struggling to find her own way through the jungle of family relationships and love without getting trapped by the likes of manipulative ‘cab driver’ Lee (Guy Rhys), she relies on her care home friend Tash (Rosie Sheehy). But sometimes Tash can’t really be there, for instance when Ava has to confront her deeply conflicted mum Claire (Siwan Morris), who’s young and far from worldly wise herself, or when she has to deal with the nervous advances of 17-year-old Dan (Connor Allen).

Raw yet delicate, this is a gripping production that prickles with danger and delusion yet fairly pulses with love, life and laughter through the tears.

By Kevin Bourke

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What: Bird 
Where: Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester
When: until June 25, 2016
More info: www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/bird

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