Ava is a young Welsh girl learning to navigate the complex and disappointing structures of adulthood. From institutionalisation to drug and alcohol abuse to inappropriate and dangerous relationships, everywhere she turns is cold and hard. As her 16th birthday approaches and she must find alternate accommodation from the children’s home, all of the threads of Ava’s distressing life become a bit too much.
Katherine Chandler’s script is a brief snapshot at a life nearing crisis point when all sources of support and safety have been withdrawn from a vulnerable girl. When Ava (Laura Wilson) told her mother Claire (Sarah Easterman) about being abused by Claire’s boyfriend, she turned her out to child services where Ava has wandered lost for three years before getting caught up with the likes of Lee (James Gordon), a taxi driver who enjoys the power imbalance of befriending young girls. Ava’s best friend Tash (Bella Ridgway) recently passed away, leaving Ava with even fewer avenues of hope so that now she’s begging her mother to allow her back into the family home.
Bird is unrelenting in its sadness as Ava stumbles from one heartbreaking conversation to the next with so few tools to cope with what others want from her. The blunt brutality is compounded by director Jane Angharad’s staging around a small roundabout where characters wait on the sidelines until their turn to take a crack at Ava. It gives the feeling of Ava being both scrutinised and alienated, denied the kind and careful attention she needs. But even with scene after scene of the young girl being insulted and demeaned, Angharad balances realism without melodrama against Ava and Tash’s dreams of freedom and flight to prevent the room becoming completely breathless.
Wilson is skilful in this teen role with a worrying tendency towards self-sacrifice to maintain equilibrium in her relationships with Claire and Lee. She feels at once desperately present and already buried too deep inside herself with a slipping resilience demonstrated in Wilson’s controlled performance. In particular, the tension between Wilson and Gordon is sickening as they dance around overlapping conversations full of hidden meaning and innuendo.
The movement of the roundabout and playground setting, designed by Angharad and James Smithers, combined with a soft sound (Angharad) and lighting design (Alex Holver) keeps the production from getting bogged down in hopelessness. The sound of birds taking off punctuates Ava and Claire’s cracking relationship while blue sea spray enlivens Ava’s memories of Tash ready to leap into the expectant breeze.
Bird is difficult viewing. Seeing someone left so alone so young can feel like rubbing skin raw. But Ava insists on a forward momentum, an upwards lift, that will change things for her and especially for her new sister; a powerful reason to keep going.
Bird is running at the Old Fitz Theatre from October 18th – November 2nd