Birdwatchers’ Wives

Birdwatchers’ Wives is effectively a one-woman show, with the climax being seven-foot Rita (the Great Crested) Grebe competing in a ‘bird-off’ – an avian version of X Factor. But, despite Caroline Smith’s extensive research into the bird-watching community, the show doesn’t really take flight.

This work-in-progress has a long way to go before you could say it has real wings.

We arrive in the Demonstration Room at Summerhall. It’s a cracking setting – the nestlike quality is wholly appropriate to the show - although once truly was enough for the site-specific joke, "Shall I demonstrate in...the Demonstration Room?"

We are greeted by Grouse, Rita’s daughter, and warned to stay inside the safety line. Rita perches centre stage in her fabulous feathered gown. The whole thing is bizarre and promising.

But, some way into the show Rita asks, ‘Still waiting for something to happen?’ And we are. In that sense, Birdwatchers’ Wives is rather like the real experience of the twitchers out there - knowing there just might be something worth waiting for, but packing up and heading home disappointed with little ticked off the list.

"Oh, twitchers, keep looking!" Rita implores. We do. We wait. By the end of the show, we can tick off hair-gorging, force feeding, a talent competition in which Rita thrashes her rival Maggie, video interludes of a murder that seems to have come out of nowhere, and ornithological puns galore. There’s even a nice bit of theatre when a food box is discovered, but all this doesn’t add up to a coherent whole. By and large the audience were non-plussed.

I wanted to like this show. I really did. Stunning costumes, perfect venue, and a great poster – bags of potential. Performance artist Caroline Smith clearly has the skills to fly. But, when a show is as static as this, with its (almost) sole protagonist spending much of the performance perched on a box, the material needs to be very good indeed. It’s not. This work-in-progress has a long way to go before you could say it has real wings.

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The Blurb

Meet Rita Grebe, a seven-foot woman who thinks she’s a bird. The latest alter-ego of performance artist Caroline Smith, ‘deliciously dark’ (Guardian), ‘curiously cathartic’ (Times), was researched with British birdwatchers - and now Rita’s hell-bent on turning the archetype of the twitcher on its head. Dressed in elaborate great crested grebe plumage, Smith questions what happens when a bird runs the show and the label of ‘human’ no longer applies. Expect the comical and surreal, for not everything is what it seems… Continuing Smith’s themes of uprooting the everyday in order to uncover and examine the strange.