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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
BIRDLAND
at Jerwood Theatre, Royal Court

PURE DESTRUCTION
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Charlotte Randle, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Yolanda Kettle/ Ph: Richard H Smith

Earlier this year the Royal Court Upstairs presented John Donnely’s The Pass, which dealt with the travails of a gay football celebrity and the compromises he has to make to hide his sexuality from the world. Fame, sex, friendship and money were trenchantly examined to powerful effect.
 
In the considerably inferior Birdland, by Simon Stephens, the same themes surface. But the protagonist this time is a mega-rich rock star called Paul, an ogre of gargantuan proportions destructively into drugs, alcohol, sex and himself. Never have I encountered a more loathsome, selfish, troublemaking and malign character in all contemporary drama. By comparison he makes John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter look like a lovable pussycat.
 
For two hours, without the respite of an intermission, we witness acts of such cruelty and jaw-dropping insensitivity that you wonder why you’re wasting two minutes, let alone two hours, in his rancid company. He thinks nothing of sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriend, who takes her own life after he threatens to tell her boyfriend what she has done. He shamelessly leads women on, humiliates his fans, deliberately sabotages press interviews and crassly manipulates everyone with whom he comes into contact – including the parents of the girl who committed suicide. His behaviour is beyond belief. There is not a single redeeming feature about him and no depths to which he will not sink in order to hurt and destroy.
 
That said, he’s brilliantly played by the charismatic Andrew Scott (Moriarty in the recent Sherlock Holmes TV series) and with such conviction you loathe him even more.
 
The play itself is an elongated cliché about the corrosive effects super-stardom and all its appurtenances can have on people who allow it (and the drugs they take) to go to their heads. Nothing new here, and Stephens has nothing fresh to add to these familiar observations.
 
At one point it is revealed that Paul owes his record company £9,785,000 for “upgraded” recording fees, upgraded studio fees, upgraded promotional fees, upgraded hotel accommodation, “specialty” travel fees and a “legendary” amount of flowers and drugs. In this day and age I cannot imagine any record company tolerating those kind of expenses. Pure fantasy. What, you have to wonder, has he done with the millions he’s made from his recordings and personal appearances?
 
Nor does the play ever evoke the excitement of rock music and its heady milieu. Tom Mills’ sound design is limited to a few vibrating chords while Scott’s pelvic gyrations stand in for the excitement of his sold-out performances in stadiums around the world.
 
Director Carrie Cracknell, working in a dreary set by Ian MacNeil – who, for some reason, floods part of the stage in the final scenes – attempts to camouflage the play’s flaws and its claustrophobic tunnel vision with some genuine creativity. Alas, it has about as much effect as an aspirin does on a stroke.

 


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