Little Bird is described by its makers and promoters as a dark fairytale, a one-man musical drama, a unique and rich theatrical experience.
It is all these things, but first and foremost it is a showcase for the performance genius of Paul Capsis.
Capsis is Little Bird.
That may be unsurprising, given the show was written specifically for him by playwright Nicki Bloom under commission by the State Theatre Company of SA and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. But it’s hard to imagine an actor or singer embodying not just one, but multiple roles, more powerfully than Capsis does here.
Amid the surreal world and strange characters of this twisty tale – where a life’s journey is condensed into one short play with a single actor – it is the performance that holds the audience spellbound. It makes us believe.
This is not to under-value the collaborative efforts of the creative team behind the show; rather, it highlights the treasure that can emerge when a work is created with a single artist in mind.
“I want to tell you a story. Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a boy …”
So begins the tale of Wren, born to a young couple who had all but given up hope of having a child. But the fledgling Wren’s happy life is torn apart when he arrives home one day to find his mother gone and his father paralysed by grief.
He decides to run away through the forest (every good fairytale needs a forest), and lands on the doorstep of a girl who takes him in, loves him and marries him. But Wren is still searching – for his true self, for his mother – and runs away again, this time to the city. There he meets Rocky, a dress-wearing former woodcutter (every good fairytale needs a woodcutter) with “legs as thick as tree stumps and hair so long you could braid it”.
After moving in with Rocky, Wren lives as a woman. It could be his happy-ever-after (every fairytale needs a happy-every-after) … but he still hasn’t found his mother, and he still hasn’t truly found himself.
Bloom’s script is like poetry, with imagery so vivid you can almost see the tears of Wren’s mother turning to ice as they land on the frosty ground and feel the ache of a small boy returning home to a dark, empty house where silence “swirls”. Capsis’s extraordinary vocal range and physical performance enable him to convincingly embody the panoply of characters – his channelling of Rocky’s mother is one comic highlight; “The Woodcutter Song”, in which he sings about felling trees in a frock, is another.
The performance is enhanced throughout by songs written by Cameron Goodall and Quentin Grant, with live music accompaniment – sometimes whimsical, sometimes dramatic. Geoff Cobham’s set and lighting is also integral in creating mood, with the stage morphing from a simple room serving as Wren’s family home, into a forest with trees sprouting up the back of the stage, a city symbolised by colourful doorways and then, finally, a dramatic curtain of feathers.
Little Bird is a show where the audience is best advised to surrender to the performance – allow yourself to get swept up in the story, in the journey, in the experience, just as if you were a child being read a fairytale.
The inherent messages are fairly obvious – acceptance, the need for love and a place to belong, self-definition, blurred lines of identity and gender – but if, at the end of it all, you still find yourself asking “What was it all about?”, director Geordie Brookman’s program notes will assist.
“At its simplest, Little Bird is a ‘finding yourself’ story,” says Brookman, who is also artistic director of the State Theatre Company. “It looks at how we are defined by the views of others instead of by our own sense of self-worth.”
He says the production is the kind of “artistic risk-taking” with which he wants the State Theatre Company to be synonymous.
This risk has paid off in spades.
Little Bird is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until June 22 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
For more stories and reviews, see InDaily’s 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival hub.
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