Thursday, 29 January 2015

LIttle Bird, 29 Jan, 2015 ***

By Nicki Bloom, Music by Cameron Goodall & Quentin Grant
by State Theatre Company SA
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne 
Jan 29 to Feb 4, 2015 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Review also published in Herald Sun online today, Fri 30 Jan 2015, and in print on Sun 1 Feb, 2015. KH

Paul Capsis in Little Bird

Paul Capsis is well known for blurring gender boundaries in his cabaret performances and continues to do so in Nicki Bloom’s one-man play, Little Bird.

Bloom’s grim fairytale explores the rites of passage of a boy maturing into a man and searching for his identity in a world that offers him no clear role models or life pathways.

A frail, birdlike child called Wren is mysteriously born to a childless couple, but his happy, family life eventually disintegrates when his mother leaves and his father falls into despair.

Wren departs on a long journey that sees this confused, young man first stumble into a marriage with a lonely girl in the forest, then escape to the city and into an equally unsatisfying relationship with Rocky, a brawny, dress-wearing woodcutter.

Alone on stage, Capsis self-narrates the entire story and plays all characters using his full, spoken, vocal range that shifts from a grumbling, dark bass – a tone that we rarely hear in his singing – to high-pitched, childlike tones. 

Initially, Capsis’s small frame twists and curls in upon itself like an old crow folding its wings, but he transforms from this gruff, old bird to pert child, then cheerful youth and finally to decorative, gender-bending man-woman.

The growling rock tune Capsis sings as cross-dressing Rocky is the most entertaining song; “I chop wood but I do it wearing a dress”, he howls, to the delight of the crowd.

Although Capsis holds the audience and sells the songs with his inimitable presence and vocal style, his middle-register when singing lacks some control and clarity.

There are multiple problems with the writing, direction and music in this production and Capsis has to push to make the story and dialogue interesting and engage the audience.

Bloom’s narrative lacks complexity and subtlety, the poetic style of language feels contrived rather than clever, the dialogue is often melodramatic or earnest and there is an imbalance between songs and text.

Although the design and lighting (Geoff Cobham) provide some visual complexity, Geordie Brookman’s direction is static and unimaginative, often leaving Capsis standing and delivering large chunks of text without layering or movement.

The music that underscores much of the story is unobtrusive but many tunes (Cameron Goodall, Quentin Grant) are predictable or uninspiring with trite lyrics.

Perhaps we are jaded by too many shows dealing with gender issues, but Wren’s gender bending feels predictable and not at all transgressive.

By Kate Herbert

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