David Campton’s The Cagebirds is a tight, gritty and intelligent meditation on confinement and rebellion. The zippy, absurdist one act show that vigorously explores Stockholm Syndrome has roots in, and themes similar to, those found in Ken Kesey’s seminal One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and fans of post-war American literature will be able to draw many other comparisons.
A shame, then, that such a well knitted and potent piece of drama has suffered from flabby and unconsidered direction at the hands of New Celts Productions and 41st 92nd Theatre. From a script that is dense and strong has come a production that is diluted and limp-wristed. Unfortunately, the poor direction almost completely ruins the shocking finale and has the profound effect of sucking emotion out of the proceeding dramatic crescendo. It all happens so fast and so loud it’s hard to know what one is meant to feel.
For the most part the cast are a capable flock but they tend to flap around - looking uncomfortable and unsure when playing out their bird-like twitchiness. However, two standout performances come from Roisin Diamond and Kimberley Gray who, between them, manage to keep the play together.
Diamond, as the tyrannical matriarch Mistress, plays her character with precision and subtlety - bringing to light the complexities of her small role that bookends the play. She is a caring sadist, constantly referring to her prisoners as ‘my sweets’ and forcing a utilitarian mind-set upon them. Gray as Wild One, the rebel and catalyst for the drama, is Mistress’ antipode – caring but short tempered, irritated by the blindness of her inmates whilst all the while desperately trying to set them free.
Although Gray also portrays a bird-like twitchiness, it appears to come from somewhere far more confident, natural and uncontrived than her fellow cast members. Her high energy and empathetic performance made her a compelling RP McMurphy to Diamond’s Nurse Ratched and a short interchange between the two at the beginning of the piece displays huge potential for their careers in the future.