Birdcage Thursdays, by Sandra Fiona Long
Review by Kerith Galvin Manderson
Originally published in Planet Arts December 2015
Before the show I heard audience members swapping stories, “I know a person on my street who is really bad”, “I know this person”. The owners moved back into the house my partner used to live in and now there are mattresses in the kitchen. My room is eating me. Never believe anyone who says, “don’t worry I’m messy too.” They’re not. I had an ex-lover who would let me sit on my bed while he would clean around me. Having him there made me feel like I wasn’t alone and like I’d accomplished something because I’d let him touch my things, which was hard. And I’d let him throw things away which was harder. Sometimes he’d find things I didn’t want to see and he’d clean while I cried.
In a carpark in Footscray are the bare bones of HOUSE, a structure that will be repurposed as temporary housing next year and during Big West acts as an arts and performance space. Birdcage Thursdays, presented by La Mama Theatre and Big West Festival and partnered with For The Crowded House, takes place upstairs in a makeshift theatre- a little room barely sheltered from the elements. Outside are the sounds of birds, cars, the wind. Inside is a whole other world, a simple but touching set of cardboard boxes piled on top of each other. The boxes move with the story, at times shielding or blocking the performers from parts of the audience. It is a lovely work with a purpose. /react-text
Someone else in my house stores 20 “working condition” but never plugged in tvs and a bag full of miniature animal shaped phones; he walked a broken and rusted hall table home up a hill for me because I liked it. It was always-almost toppling over and mostly lived in the garage surrounded by other things that don’t get used or looked at.
Birdcage Thursday tells the story of mother (Genevieve Picot), daughter (Sophia Constantine), and an inspection which threatens to leave her out of a home filled with things, dust, smells, and a bird. The script is sharp and inviting, Sandra Fiona Long leads us through the script as both playwright and performer introducing each scene as a “segment” and voicing stage directions. Her performance can be a bit close to pantomime at times but her script is wonderful, a well-paced and managed story as familiar as it felt original. This was not “a play about hoarding”, but a play about the characters, and we cared.
I used to live with a woman and on her side of the bed were rows and rows of empty beer bottles she’d drink in the middle of the night. On my side of the bed were mountains of clothes creeping up to eye level. Dishes probably. Moldy cups of tea. Soon it becomes hard to touch them except to move them under the bed. Things would move into the ensuite and start piling up there. When we broke up she said, “the most amazing thing happened. I cleaned! I remembered I’m not like that. It’s you. It was you.”
Raya Slavin’s soundscape worked as an alternate narrator to the piece, pitched perfectly in mood and motion leading the performers through space and time. It was Slavin that saved moments that otherwise might have made me flinch a little in embarrassment, the transformation from daughter to bird made easy through the sound supporting the moment. And they were there, though not too often. Some of the stylised movements and performances that were perhaps too big for the space, but I never really felt like it took anything away from the work. Director Caitlin Dullard and the performers have pulled together an honest piece that didn’t feel like it was pretending. Birdcage Thursdays connects and cares for people and it is clear that the team of Birdcage Thursdays do too.
More often than not I can ignore it, the bags for the op-shop I keep, climbing over things to get into bed, and I will do it tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be better, I’m going to do it. I have 14, 508 unopened emails in my email account and I am not that bad actually. I’m not as bad as the house with the mattresses in the kitchen, for example, or the people they were talking about while we waited to see the show. It's not that bad. I'm going to be better.
For older members of the community needing assistance there are government home care packages that may assist (Information I know because of the show!) and for anyone there’s project partner to Birdcage Thursdays, For The Crowded House http://thecrowdedhouse.net.au/