The Space at Symposium Hall (Annexe), Edinburgh
I’m a fan of Daphne du Maurier’s short story,The Birds. I like the set-up, the idea of a family under siege, their home slowly transforming into a prison, and the frustration the central character, Nat, feels, when his neighbours dismiss his fears that something is amiss. Conor McPherson’s 2016 stage script dilutes this somewhat, replacing Nat’s family with two women, strangers to him and to each other. The disparate threesome, all seeking somewhere safe from the birds, hole up together in an abandoned house, where they struggle to get along. Much is made of the women’s rivalry, because – of course – they’re both attracted to Nat, and what else do women do but catfight over men? Gah. Still, at least there’s no caged loved birds, so we can be thankful for that…
St Michael’s Players (from Chiswick) certainly give this all they’ve got. Things start off promisingly, with Diane (Arabella Harcourt-Cooze), who’s been managing just fine on her own, tending to the injured Nat (Neil Dickins), who has just stumbled in. The tension between the two is tangible, especially when he rants about his ex-wife having him sectioned, all while swinging a hammer. Harcourt-Cooze is mesmerising here, watchful and tense – and, when the moment passes, there’s a palpable sense of relief in the room. But Diane and Nat get along well, until Julia (Georgina Parren) arrives, driving a wedge between them, the younger woman displacing the older. Julia wields her fecundity like a weapon, but she shouldn’t underestimate Diane…
The four actors (David Burles plays Tierney, a small but crucial part) perform well, and commit fully to their roles. However, I don’t think enough is made of the existential threat. Initially, the birds’ presence is clear: there are recorded sound effects, as well as some off-stage flapping, which combine to create an atmosphere of dread. However, as the play progresses, the outside danger becomes less pressing, and we’re soon embroiled in a domestic drama, with only occasional reminders that the apocalypse is happening just the other side of the door. I think the stakes need raising here: we need to feel afraid of what the birds might do, to believe that they are growing in number and becoming ever more dangerous. The noises need to be louder and more incessant, and we could do something visual too, even just a simple lighting effect. Without these elements, the play essentially doesn’t fly.
Which is a shame because there’s much here to admire – particularly those committed performances.