Catching a theatre show at Irene’s Warehouse has to be one of the most Brunswick experiences I’ve had in a long time. From the converted warehouse itself to the cups of mulled wine and the just-stepped-into-someone’s-backyard vibe, the whole venue is just dripping with all the things that make Brunswick Brunswick. It makes sense, then, that a venue like this would put on a reimagining of the stage production of The Birds, and it makes even more sense that the production would strive to offer new and original takes on the story.
Based on the play by Conor McPherson, this re-imagining of the Daphne du Maurier short story bills itself as an “immersive horror experience”, and sets about delivering this in a number of ways. It aims for immersive by placing the audience “in the round” rather than front on (so be careful not to sit on the set!), with the set itself being spread out across the bottom floor of the warehouse. This seems like a good idea to begin with, but it does mean that you need to make sure you use the bathroom before the show, because if you use it after the curtain goes up you may be suddenly joined by one or more of the characters.
This also means that some of the action on the stage itself is blocked by the actors or even by other audience members – the crowd to our left would have spent some of the scenes staring at the sides of our heads instead of at the action taking place on the couches, and a few key plot points we spotted would have been invisible to the audience opposite us. It also meant that some of the more creative uses of lighting became distracting at times, with torches shining in our eyes and complete blackouts convincing me that someone was going to fall and break their necks (this is partially a lack of faith on my part, but also I was nearly stepped on several times by actors when the lights were on so maybe my fear wasn’t that unreasonable after all).
The sound, too, was inconsistent – when the characters complain that the silence is the most maddening thing about the birdpocalypse it only serves to highlight how much of the soundscape has been silence, when it should have been bird sounds considering the birds have been trying to break in for at least half of the time. This is highlighted again when a character goes to run outside only to stop and listen to … complete silence, then turn around and ask “how long have the birds been there?” What could have been a useful tool to illustrate the claustrophobic terror the characters were feeling – as well as the passage of time – instead becomes an oversight in production planning.
As for the story itself, the first act delivers on its horror promise by setting up a dark, chilling and very human narrative of two people trapped together (for better or for worse) in an abandoned house by the titular Birds, but the later acts move away from this more promising premise and into more of a dark soap-opera narrative that, while interesting, relies on too many familiar tropes to be as effective as it could have been. However, while the writing falls short the actors do their best with the material and do manage to achieve some very interesting things with the characters. Jaz Wickson in particular does a compelling job with her character Julie, giving her the several different layers of depth and mystery that the plot needs to function properly. The full promise of her character isn’t really realised though, and the play’s conclusion ends up falling a little short of satisfying.
Despite its flaws, however, the production does end up being a rather fun experience, offering some new and creative takes on a familiar story and providing a few good scares along the way. If you’re a lover of Brunswick’s unique arts scene I recommend checking out their final show on Saturday the 18th of July. Check out the Spark Production Company on Facebook for more details and to book.