JOYCE MCMILLAN on SONGBIRD (Giant Productions at Platform @ The Bridge, Easterhouse) for The Scotsman 30.10.09
4 stars ****
THERE’S A TENDENCY for children’s theatre to take a bells-and-whistles approach to the art-form, with performers seeking constant reassurance in the form of obvious audience reactions. Here’s a show though, that takes an entirely different approach. It’s serious, moving and dignified; and it treats its audience, aged eight and over, like real junior theatregoers, capable of taking on board some powerful and substantive themes. And beyond that, this beautiful 45-minute tone poem – written and composed by David Paul Jones, and conceived and directed by Katrina Caldwell – also adds something to the current rapid development of music theatre in Scotland; not least because of the astonishing synthetic languages – one from a beautiful island rainforest, the other a complex amalgam of western city language – in which Jones has written his libretto.
Through eleven distinct and beautiful songs, the story tells of a lovely, vulnerable songbird, exquisitely played and sung by Judith Williams, whose rainforest is destroyed by fire when a towering female figure of western commerce, fabulously embodied by soprano Rachel Hynes, comes to clear the land. The destroyer finds the bewildered songbird, and captures it for her own; she takes it to a western city, where the songbird is displayed and exploited as an exotic performer, before dying of grief and homesickness, and leaving its owner stricken with a terrible sense of loss.
The metaphor is obvious, and Brian Hartley’s set – of swift-moving, reversible flats, cunningly lit by Sergey Jakovsky - is as clever and effective as his beautifully-feathered songbird costume. And with the help of a little comic by-play from David Paul Jones as the pianist, and cellist Robin Mason, the children in the audience are held rapt from beginning to end, and left with plenty of food for thought, discussion, and dreams.