JESS HOWLEY-WELLS reviews Where Do Little Birds Go? at The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub.
Eighteen-year-old Lucy Fuller is working at Winston’s Nightclub in the 60s, until the night she is kidnapped by the Kray twins and locked in a flat with an escaped murderer in order to keep him docile. Camilla Whitehill’s evocative debut play is an insightful exploration of victimhood–alarmingly in records of the real life version of these events, often Lisa Barton’s (Lucy’s) name is only mentioned in passing, whilst the more important matter of the Krays’ story is being told. Whitehill gives Lucy an hour of pure spotlight.
It is almost impossible to approach Where Do Little Birds Go? without some kind of preconceived idea of how it will be. It’s a monologue; it’s about the Kray twins; it’s the story of a woman who has been sexually exploited–and all of these facts are made explicit in the brief synopsis written on the programme. However, this set up assists greatly in creating the intimacy needed for this play to succeed. We know, for the most part, what is going to happen to Lucy, which makes her lack of agency almost excruciating as we watch her put it into words.
The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub is the perfect venue: the theatre itself, though small, is made up of more seating than stage, only allowing Lucy just enough space to seem slightly lost. The walls are hung with strips of black shimmering plastic, and the rest of the set is also completely black–it is oppressive, and obviously so. It is a touch confusing, all of this considered, when Lucy then comes on stage to a musical number, an image of confidence and charisma. Lucy, played exquisitely by Jessica Butcher, relates complicatedly to her status as a victim and this is explicit from the beginning. Her storytelling is clumsy, awkward in its earnestness at times, but her humour is sharp and she has fire. She makes comfortable eye contact with every member of the audience, and she has an air of strength about her even in the scenes in which she physically acts out her assault and is most degraded. She found empowerment in the sex work that she took on at the night club and makes it clear that wants no pity on that front. She wants no pity for her choices. It is the sex that she did not consent to which overpowers her and breaks her.
Her moments of weakness are plenty and they are raw and overwhelming–but often muddled with snippets of song, and a little confused. At times this was stylishly messy, at others it was just a little odd. The music and lighting firmly placed us within the era and place–be it nightclub or courtroom–throughout, but at times it felt a little abrasive. This, along with the decision to include some out of place slow-motion movement in a piece of realist drama, were some rare questionable moments in Sarah Meadow’s direction of the play.
Ultimately, the play tiptoes around the contentious topic of consent in a very daring and intelligent way–Lucy agreed to go with the Krays, sure, but they were the Krays. What could you do if someone intensely powerful grabbed you by the p***y?
Where Do Little Birds Go? is playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub until 26th November 2016. For more information: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/where-do-little-birds-go.html