Friday, 12 June 2015

Birdland, MTC, June 11, 2015 **1/2

Written by Simon Stephens, by Melbourne Theatre Company 
MTC Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until July 11, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: **1/2
Review also online in Herald Sun today, Fri June 12, 2015. Later in print. KH
This production of Simon Stephens’ play, Birdland, echoes the chaos of its lead character’s rock star lifestyle but the stylistic chaos of the production causes a simultaneous loss of dramatic control of the play.

Paul (Mark Leonard Winter) is on the final week of his band’s 15-month, sold-out world tour, but fame, wealth and his perpetual life on the road and living in hotel suites leave him arrogant, deluded and emotionally disconnected.

He treats his friends, family, colleagues and strangers with utter contempt and his self-indulgence and heartlessness lead indirectly to the suicide of Marnie (Anna Samson), girlfriend of his long-time pal and fellow band-member, Johnny (Socratis Otto).

Paul is a thoroughly repellant, irredeemable narcissist, a bully, a liar, a substance abuser and also a people abuser.

Stephens’ writing has a harsh, brittle quality and it shines an unflattering light on not only Paul but also on the flawed characters that flutter around him.

Paul’s chickens eventually come home to roost in an unexpected, final turn of events that make an unsatisfying and glib ending to the play.

Stephens’ script cries out for a firm directorial hand but Leticia Cáceres’ production favours style over content so any deeper meaning or character development are swamped by shambolic staging, scattered set design, poor sightlines, food fights and general messiness and lack of focus.

Winter plays Paul with a dissolute, disdainful attitude that highlights Paul’s cruelty and self-absorption, but he struggles with the formidable task of making a boorish egotist interesting.

Unfortunately, Paul’s own boredom becomes boring and Winter’s performance lacks the charisma that might explain Paul’s success on stage or disc.

Five supporting actors play multiple roles, working hard to make this production entertaining and to overcome the scrappy nature of the staging.

In a sensitive and well-written scene, Bert LaBonté is a highlight as Paul’s beleaguered, undemanding and abandoned dad, and his version of Paul’s Scottish fan is deliciously gauche and funny.

Peta Sergeant brings warmth and truth to the role of Jenny, the Russian room-service maid who has the intellect and moral compass that are absent in Paul.

Michala Banas is dignified as Annalisa the journalist, Otto is cheerfully puppy-like as Johnny, while Anna Samson’s Marnie is sassy but often shrill.

Cáceres’ production of Birdland is confused and lacks the control and dynamic range that could bring to life Paul’s inner and outer world as he spirals out of control.

By Kate Herbert

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