PQA Venues, Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh
Early Birds is a gentle tribute to the hit TV sit-com, Birds of a Feather. Penned by the same writers, Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, it charts the development of the show, from its inauspicious conception to the mighty 13 million viewers who tuned in for the first episode. It made stars of its lead actors, notably Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke, and it’s the latter whose project this really is, commissioned especially for the Pauline Quirke Academy’s inaugural Edinburgh Fringe programme.
Fans of the original sit-com will no doubt be charmed by this addition to the canon. There are no great revelations, but we do learn about the crucial moment when Maurice (Alastair Natkiel) saw two women and their gangster boyfriends looking incongruous in a posh hotel, and began to ruminate on their circumstances, thus sparking the idea. And it’s interesting to see the writers’ battles with bureaucracy, all the ‘nearlies’ and ‘almosts’ that could easily have sunk the show.
Harriet Watson and Katriona Perrett are perfectly cast as Pauline/Sharon and Linda/Tracey, giving lively, sparky performances. Sue Appleby is also good as Lesley Joseph/Dorien, and Charlie Quirke (Pauline Quirke’s real-life son) is quite the scene-stealer, both as Mr Timms, the supercilious dole officer sneering at Pauline’s thespian aspirations, and as Allan, a wheeler-dealer TV producer/money man.
If there’s a problem, it’s to do with a script that feels more like TV than theatre, with lots of short scenes that flit between locations, and it’s not helped by all the unnecessary moving of furniture. Why are there two different sofas being dragged on and off the stage, for example? Surely a throw or a even a change of lighting would be enough to let us know we’re somewhere else at another time? The frequent set changes slow down the pace and disrupt the story’s flow.
The best part by far is the re-enactment of the first episode’s recording, complete with floor managers, make-up artists and even a warm-up comedian. This section is a lot of fun, and the performers are clearly enjoying what they do.
If you fancy a slice of nostalgia and enjoy an origins story, then this just might be the show for you.