Birdland*** (Royal Court Theatre)

Posted: April 8, 2014 in Theatre

birdlandSo wealth and fame corrupt, right? The message has never been more relevant than today when show business and sports stars earn fortunes and are splashed all over celebrity magazines and television screens, but, from A Star is Born all the way through to this new play by Simon Stephens, the message is fundamentally the same and it is now old hat. Certainly Stephens embellishes his play with very modern touches, the production has brilliant sequences and we see a dazzling star turn from its leading actor, but all this only serves to gloss over the play’s big shortcoming – that it delivers an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. Paul (Andrew Scott) is a rock superstar, coming towards the end of a World tour; we see him first in Moscow, with only Berlin and Paris to go, and then home, if only he had a real home to go to. He is dependent on drugs and alcohol, arrogant, manipulative, petulant and thoughtless. He has lost all sense of reality and alienates everyone around him. The play then follows him along his path of destruction, leaving countless victims in his wake. The playwright’s directions are that “the stage should be spare and abstract rather than mimetic or naturalistic” and so Ian MacNeil’s set is until it undergoes a surprising transformation which ought not to be revealed. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, all the characters apart from Paul and his roadie Johnny (Alex Price) are played by four actors doubling, and very well played too. However, the centrepiece is inevitably Scott whose performance ranges from languid (often under the influence of some substance) to his manic Moriarty; he is on stage for almost the entire 110 minutes and his raw charisma is mesmerising throughout. He elevates a rather ordinary play into something often memorable.

Performance date: 8 April 2014

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