Birdboy – Traverse Theatre

Created by Emma Martin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not even in their own heads can they find solace – no, in this world where a young boy seeks to escape the trauma and harshness of the every day, even retreating inside his mind comes with risk. Venturing into his head, through a land where growing up is challenging, the stimuli of reality pervert the world of fantasy with anxiety, dread and confusion as all aspects fight for a place inside the young boy’s mind.

It may all sound a touch much for a children’s production, one where the macabre imagery tends to reign supreme, but it’s managed with tremendous delicacy, Emma Martin and United Fall course a coloufrul spontaneity and enthusiastic choreography through the darker aspects of the narrative to fashion something superbly concise, and profoundly more respectful and intelligent than at first glance.

An abandoned car rusted and tattered amongst the leaves and foliage, the moonlight illuminates a small, almost sentient being, a common plastic bag which dips around the stage in a prevailing silence. And just as the encroaching shadows loom large, an explosion of musicality and colour erupt from the vehicle, as someone emerges, half-bird, half boy, straddling the car before receding into the darkness.

Leaping around, through, on top of, and utilising every stretch of space, performer Kevin Coquelard displays a hectic form of energy, continuously moving the momentum of the show forward – never resting, even in the more silent moments, the pacing never looks back – partially out of a symbolic fear of what it holds. And when the car radio explodes into a cacophony, Coquelard begins to lip-synch (rather spectacularly) the familiar sounds, songs and snippets of audio. From Lady Gaga’s recurring comments on “One in a hundred to believe in you”, Spongebob, and various pop ballads. But if you listen closely, even amidst the gags, the clatter, and the top chart hits – the fragmentary laughs of children can be heard.

In the confines of this kaleidoscopic mind, the realms of jovialness and sorrow grind against one another. The snippets of these children’s laughter ripples through the cultural references and soundbites, causing Coquelard to dance with even more impressive intensity, and also with a deft grace, almost exorcising the monsters he attempts to escape as they grow in number, the ghastly ribbons of the plastic bags ensnaring more and more of the stage under Orla Clogher’s design. The physicality of the show is breathtakingly engaging, as Coquelard is finally able to grasp the ghosts, Coquelard begins to tear, and bite the ribbons, leaving them to float up into the rafters.

In this world of woe and momentum, where imagination is equally a coping tool as it is harmful, the subtext of the piece leaves a decisive, but subtle impact – which will unfurl long after the show concludes. So much so that one begins to ponder if the plastic bags themselves are taking direction, but it is not luck which leads to Birdboy’s exceptionally vivid 40-minutes, but a combination of tight choreography, harsh and macabre aesthetics – and an intensity from the ecstatically charged central performance from Coquelard. 

Martin’s Birdboy encapsulates the majesty of Imaginate better than some productions – from the introductory messages of what the production entails, to the openness and honesty it shares with children through a refusal to pander. United Fall has crafted a piece adults will cherish and recognise – in the long-lost abilities to catapult around a room, but with that familiar inner noise refusing to leave. It is a show which reminds us of the value of live theatre and of the ability to communicate with all generations and share the moment and the memories. 

‘Reminder of the Value of Performance’

Birdboy runs at the Traverse Theatre until May 14th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Luca Truffarelli

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