Cagebirds

Leicester-born David Campton, who died in in 2006, was a prolific British dramatist, especially adept at writing thought-provoking one act plays that make us laugh as much as we might shiver in fear. So, while not an obvious choice, there’s some merit in the Bedlam Theatre opting to run the Cagebirds up to Halloween.

Director Marina Johnson delivers an extremely tight, and beautifully choreographed production in which a spot-on cast make Campton’s points without fuss or gratuitous exaggeration.

The play opens in what appears to be an office; with desks, telephones, a filing cabinet and loads of paperwork. Yet the six women in the room are somewhat birdlike, thanks to their make-up, posture and the feathers in their clothes. Indeed, before the lights went up, all six were standing on their chairs, asleep like birds in a cage. Room, cage, people and birds – it’s not entirely clear what’s what.

What does become obvious is that they’re not even communicating with each other, each engrossed in a particular passion – food, make-up, illness, gossip, reactionary conservatism or just avoiding having any opinion at all. Yet despite all the preoccupation on display, there’s balance within the overall group – represented here by the smooth choreography of paperwork continuously passed between them.

What brings this clockwork ecosystem to a juddering halt is the unseen Mistress’s introduction of the “Wild One”; from the start, the newcomer’s talking about breaking out of the cage and finding freedom again in the outside world. The others are not listening; they are “content”, according to the Mistress. To the Wild One, they’re so oppressed that they don’t even realise it.

Director Marina Johnson delivers an extremely tight, and beautifully choreographed production in which a spot-on cast make Campton’s points without fuss or gratuitous exaggeration. Agnes Kenig is particularly good as “the Great Guzzler”, worried by the idea of smoked salmon becoming “a nightmare” through excessive repetition, and genuinely terrified by her glimpse of an outside world that’s “Too much, too many, too big, too far.”

Much of our focus, of course, falls on the rebellious Wild One; Sandra Hoegl attacks the role with an almost palpable frustration, her distinctive accent marking her out as different as much as her clothes. The Wild One does, indeed, break open the cage door, but she makes the mistake of returning to help the others. They don’t want to follow, and the play remains ambivalent about why – the Wild One thinks they’re afraid, but what she sees as their prison, the Long-Tongued Gossip (an elegant Esme Allman) insists is their home. “Must I be caged because you lack willpower?” the Wild One asks. Her eventual answer is certainly not what she expected; a sign of what communities are capable of doing in order to survive.

This is certainly sharp, powerful theatre which doesn’t linger or outstay its welcome.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Welcome to the Cage. Six prisoners reside isolated in their own thoughts and co-exist in a delicate harmony, until their peace is shattered by the Wild One.

Captured and cast into the cage, she tries to escape, but in doing so she threatens everything the cagebirds believe in.

David Campton’s beloved play is brought to life in a new production by the EUTC that blends absurdism, choreography and dark humour in a tale of the dangers of mob mentality and the price of free will.