Theatre review: Where Do Little Birds Go?
In the 1960s, Lisa Prescott was kidnapped and held for more than four days in an East Ham flat by gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray. She was kept there as a sex slave for an escaped murderer, Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell.
Condemned to the role of a throwaway victim within the context of the notorious Kray twins and their lengthy list of crimes, Prescott’s personal ordeal has been little documented. Now her story has been given a voice in Camilla Whitehill’s one-woman show, Where Do Little Birds Go?
Taken from true accounts, Whitehill creates an imagined version of events pre-ordeal through the eyes of the fictional character Lucy Fuller (Jessica Butcher), who takes the place of Prescott. We meet Lucy when she is a naïve and optimistic 17-year-old arriving in London with the hope of becoming a famous singer. All seems well when Lucy is offered a job at the famous Winston’s nightclub – the same club in which her idol Barbara Windsor began her career. But from here Lucy’s life takes unexpected turns and veers dramatically off track.
Whitehill’s script is very well written. She never overplays her hand when dealing with this inherently dark and dramatic subject matter. Using Lucy as the narrator means that the writing remains human and charming, and Whitehill successfully employs the character’s youthful buoyancy to avoid melodrama. We warm instantly to Lucy as she comes on stage to belt out a hopeful love song. By presenting Lucy before her suffering, the play becomes more than just an account of the crime; it morphs into a story about Lucy growing up, albeit in dramatic circumstances, and losing the hope and innocence so characteristic of youth. As a result, Where Do Little Birds Go? grows in poignancy.
A solo show is no easy feat for a performer. It requires a huge amount of energy and focus; there is nowhere to hide should it all fall apart. Thankfully, Butcher gives a strong performance as Lucy. With a story such as this, there is little need to add any more drama and, for the most part, Butcher serves the script superbly. But in some of the more sorrowful moments, rather than allowing the script to speak, she is perhaps guilty of playing the drama more than is strictly necessary. Having said that, it is in Lucy’s bubbliness and humour where Butcher really excels. From the early playful exchanges, we become fully engaged with Butcher’s story-telling.
The disparate elements of the show are woven together well: the punctuation of songs both sung and recorded serve to evoke the era, and the costume design subtly reflects Lucy’s change from naïve young girl through to precocious club hostess and vulnerable sex slave. Meanwhile, Justin Nardella’s simple yet effective set consists of a black wooden bar and three cabaret tables. Laid out like graduated podiums with bulbs hung around their outer edge, they ingenuously create makeshift stairs up to the bar-top which, in a smart decision, serves as both Lucy’s singing stage and the stage for her sexual violation later in the play.
It is this line between Lucy’s desire to entertain and her eventual ordeal that director Sarah Meadows manipulates so well. By harnessing Lucy’s charisma, we are distracted from the inevitable tragedy. So when it finally comes it is all the more unsettling, especially in the painfully simple and honest physical portrayal of the sexual assault. Ultimately, Where Do Little Birds Go? is a hauntingly entertaining piece of theatre that uplifts and distresses in equal measure.
Where Do Little Birds Go? was at The Kings Arms in Salford. For information on future tour dates, follow this link: http://wheredolittlebirdsgo.com/
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