Like Caged Birds
  • By Tim Earl
  • |
  • 31st May 2008
  • |
  • ★★★

The basement of this old house contains the servant’s quarters, which are in the process of restoration as a heritage centre. They are the setting for a site-specific performance of life below stairs, drawn in part from the diary of a footman and acting butler of the period, who visited Brighton with his employer.

The action is played out by actors in period costume, in the same space as the audience, who are free to come and go, and enter rooms as they wish, subject to safety warnings. The story shows the brutal nature of life in service, and it’s effects on those endured it. The cramped conditions, the rigid hierarchy, the spite and persecution. No wonder that the butler launches into a violent tirade about them all being ‘like caged birds’. And it’s no surprise when, and at the culmination, the persecuted mute maid takes a garden spade to the evil housekeeper who is the bane of her life.

The actors accurately capture the repressive nature of life in service with their clipped, buttoned-down performances. The setting is a little spare, though, with bare walls, virtually no furniture, and much evidence of building work. However, the performance is designed to allow the audience to roam freely, with individual vignettes repeated two or three times so that everyone has a chance to see everything.

A fascinating glimpse into life in a completely different world. I look forward to seeing a similar performance when the house is completely restored.

Reviews by Tim Earl

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The Blurb

Sounds sweep through partitioned wine cellar, glass-roofed kitchen and cramped sleeping quarters: bells ring, heels click, cups clatter, kettle whistles. Sequel to LOOK NOW uncovers fragments of life below stairs.

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