Birdie – MANIPULATE 2023

Produced by Agruación Señor Serrano

Created by Álex Serrano, Pau Palacios and Ferran Dorda

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With the sixteenth edition of Edinburgh’s stupendously inventive, diverse and creative visual storytelling festival MANIPULATE underway, Capital Theatre’s The Studio offers a fond welcome return to the Barcelona-based theatre company Señor Serrano, whose previous 2017 MANIPULATE piece A House In Asia became a firm-favourite of the season.

After the delayed return of the festival, last night saw creatives Álex Serrano, Pau Palacios and Ferran Dorda treat audiences to an innovative and witty criticism of humankind with a revisitation of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece The Birds. Agruación Señor Serrano’s Birdie gives life to the inanimate and conjures additional weight to the two-dimensional with the use of photography, digital effects, projections, live performance elements, and of course, 2000 miniature animals.

But as Birdie begins to veer towards the subjects of motivated perceptions, war, smuggling and mass migration, audiences find themselves asking; this is all just about birds, right?

Birdie’s transitions between Acts cover a diverse range of ideas, and Señor Serrano’s methods of artistic expression may develop and change with each new one, but have a halting and re-starting momentum – just as the pacing is progressing with the use of laser projection or the blend of digital art and scale models, often the production cuts itself at before shifting into a different dynamic. There’s a trifle too much disconnection, certainly not in artistic ability or societal criticism, but in logistics and flow.

Featuring the voice of Simone Milsdochter, Birdie reveals too much of its hand to ensure audiences comprehend the semiotics of it all. Milsdochter provides a fitting and easy to listen to guide throughout, and their parallel commentary of the production’s re-visitation of Hitchcock’s film is superb, but it gradually encompasses less than expected, resulting in Birdie feeling like a 45-minute show needlessly elongated.

Its auditory design helps, but Birdie is chiefly a visual form of expression and artistry, and one of its opening acts demonstrates how our eyes manipulate photography: how our two-second glance can never unfold the extent of the purpose and scope of an image. Gradually, the performers dissect and highlight the now poignant ‘landscape of desolation’ photograph from José Palazón, taken at the Morocco-Melilla border which finds African migrants looking down at a wealthy golf course. What follows is an in-depth and rapid mixture of scale-model work to pinpoint elements of the photo audiences may initially have overlooked.

Individually each segment has a precision and unique presence, the aforementioned laser demonstration both an illuminating (literally) and disconcerting reminder of the coldness of identification, and technologies superior stance at marking who is ‘human’ and who ‘belongs’. It leads to the obvious, the scale model glaring at audiences from the onset – taking up the breadth of The Studio space: a golf course, home of another kind of Birdie. One distorted to reflect a (d)evolution, of sorts, as a slew of animals pushes their way across biomes, distances, and humanities perverse influences leading to a grim reality – that gaping hole in one.

It’s a fascinating diorama, one which the audience could scour for hours and still discover small microcosms of interest. The micro-cinematography enables us to dive right down to the miniature level, where grains of sand and flour are used to emulate the struggles of a tundra or sandstorm. It’s all rounded out with a well-devised sound design to keep us in the moment of these worlds across the performance.  

Two worlds; one of war, famine, deforestation, pollution, persecution and life-saving resources – and the other, of prosperity, safety, warmth, welfare and mobility are laid bare for the audiences to digest. Birdie’s separate acts make for ingeniously engaging pieces of cinema, theatre, and elements of installation, but struggle in solidifying the points together with a final gust of wind and attempted hard reveal which doesn’t hit as expected. Señor Serrano’s Birdie still draws valiant parallels between the famous piece of cinema and our own attitudes to those small specs perched atop the fence.

But, they’re all just birds. Right?

Fascinating Visual Criticism of Mankind

Birdie runs as part of the MANIPULATE Festival at The Studio, tickets for which may be obtained here.

Runs for one hour without interval. Tickets begin from £15/£13 (con).

Additional information relating to Bridie, and the work of Señor Serrano may be obtained here.


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