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Edinburgh 2015 Preview: Where Do Little Birds Go? (Underbelly, Edinburgh)

where do little birds go?
Where Do Little Birds Go?

Little birdie. Jessica Butcher as Lucy. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

In A Nutshell

Where Do Little Birds Go? is a heady and troubling account of a criminal underworld that’s leaves you shaken to the core.

Overview

We meet Lucy Fuller, a nightclub hostess who got kidnapped by the Kray twins and kept as a sex slave for escaped murderer Frank “The Mad Axeman” Mitchell. She regales us with how she came to London, her hopes, her dreams, and the nightmare she endured.

Writing

Camilla Whitehill writes an imagined account, based on the true story of Frank Mitchell and the woman the Krays kidnapped to keep him “occupied”, Lisa Prescott. This debut from Whitehill uses documented facts about the ordeal and the criminals involved incorporated into the tale, but instead has created a fully fledged fictional character and swapped her for Prescott. In doing so, Whitehill has created a well-paced theatrical drive to the events that’s human and harrowing, but also tender and charismatic.

What is most surprising about Where Do Little Birds Go? is just how natural and straight forward Lucy is. She’s a bubbly girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. But in doing so, despite the horror of her ordeal, melodrama is very much off the menu. That’s not to say Whitehill underplays the violence or its effects, it’s just never sensationalised. We don’t expect simple and frank truths in something so shocking, but that’s what we get, and its this level and unembellished version of events that makes Where Do Little Birds Go? so surprising.

In truth, this is a little awkward as you expect something so heinous to have an oomph of high-drama behind it. But what Where Do Little Birds Go? gives us instead is a very real person having gone through a very real trauma, and is presented without the hyper-theatrics. If anything, this makes it even more impactful in its reality, and disturbs us more because it feels too believable for comfort.

To enhance Lucy’s tale, Whitehill incorporates some effective theatrical and narrative techniques. Music plays a big part in Lucy’s life and also forms a significant theme for the play. Lucy’s memories is often interrupted by an almost neurotic busting into song, highlighting the emotional scars Lucy carries with her. Elsewhere, music is employed to juxtapose some of the more disturbing parts of her account to gut-punching effect.

Lucy, as a character is incredibly detailed, and this is probably the only fault I can pick. Whilst Whitehill makes sure every detail shared is relevant and drives the plot, there’s just a bit too much of it, meaning that the pace can be a bit slow at times. But thankfully, Where Do Little Birds Go? has a wonderful actor involved who really helps keep the momentum of these passages going.

Direction & Production

Sarah Meadows really embraces Whitehill’s text to conjure a production that teases the most out of the writing. The set, evoking the shoddy ritz of Winston’s nightclub, gives Meadows the ammunition she needs. Particularly interesting is the using of height, with the graduated podiums giving a chance not only to add visual variety but literally represent the highs, lows, rises, and falls of our character. Meadows also ensures that Lucy buzzes about the space ensuring nothing ever feels flat or static. It’s a movement that is as dynamic as our fated heorine.

As music is an integral theme in Where Do Little Birds Go?, it’s executed well here too, with some devastating choices of songs, including the incorporation of the titular number. Particularly, as Lucy recounts her “duties” whilst imprisioned with Frank Mitchell, the sultry tones of Art Garfunkel provide too hideous a juxtaposition to bear. Also, if the music is deafening, it’s because it’s on purpose. It’s adds an uneasy sense of mania and oppression to the story that really lifts the show, even if it’s physically uncomfortable to sit through.

Cast

Jessica Butcher gives an unbelievable performance as Lucy in Where Do Little Birds Go?. She chimes with Whitehill’s text in that she too steers wide of sensationalism and does an incredible job of presenting Lucy as a person rather than a story. She excels at finding the character’s sense of humour, even in places where it would otherwise seem impossible, but also masters the little stumbles in Lucy’s demure, taking time to recognise and portray the damage done.

But throughout, she pushes light where light is needed, and strives, despite the ghastly situation, to create as uplifting a story as can be had through the torture she so candidly speaks about, coming to an uproarious and shattering climax.

Verdict

Few pieces of theatre surprise and stay with you so strongly afterwards like Where Do Little Birds Go?. A gripping and haunting triumph that elates and distresses in equal measure.

Where Do Little Birds Go? plays at the Underbelly (Cowgate), Edinburgh, EH1 1EG, 6-16 and 18-30 August 2015 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015. Tickets are £11 (concessions available). To book, visit https://tickets.edfringe.com.

This review has written during the performance at the Vault Festival in January 2015.