The brilliant ensemble cast in Anne Simon’s fabulous production of Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” Photo: boshua
Anne Simon’s take on Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” is smart, hugely entertaining and strangely moving.
The audience at the Capucins to watch “Stupid Fucking Bird” is in stitches even before the play proper begins. The ensemble cast struts around the set (a brilliantly designed swimming pool by Clio van Aerde) as seagulls, each with its particular gait and distinctive character. It is a neat prologue with which to disarm the audience, especially as the fourth wall is repeatedly broken throughout the evening.
Based on “The Seagull”, that marvellously subtextual examination of the discontent of the artistic middle-class, Posner’s play takes the key characters from Chekhov’s modernist work and lands them squarely in the post-modern. Simon even takes Posner’s text a stage further, with knowing references to the make up of the audience and the new government’s headline making free public transport policy.
But anyone familiar with “The Seagull” will recognise the original characters--though a couple are notably omitted--and the basic premise. In “Stupid Fucking Bird”, Con (a typically charismatic Isaac Bush) is the aspiring playwright trying to win the approval of both his mother, Emma, and his girlfriend, Nina. The latter is played by Elisabet Johannesdottir with wonderful élan, a central performance of shifting subtlety that carries the arc of the play’s narrative while the other characters flounder in self-pity, self-righteousness and self-doubt.
In addition, Con’s best friend Dev is obsessed with neighbour’s daughter Mash, who in turn suffers from unrequited love for Con. So when Nina becomes obsessed with Emma's latest beau, the famous author Trigorn (an effervescent and suitably sly and arrogant Owen Sharpe), the play’s already complex relationships threaten to end in tragedy.
The swimming pool set is put to brilliant use by Simon, who ramps up the comedy by having each character “swim” in a unique fashion. She even cleverly interpretats the difference between the “life saver” sweet (in the original Posnert text) and the rescue device for swimmers during a scene between Mash and Con’s uncle, Sorn. Mash almost drowns in the pool as she struggles to cope with her broken heart, while a blissfully iginrant and self-absorbed Sorn asks if she is alright. Indeed, most of the characters could be said to be not waving, but drowning.
Local actors Raoul Schlechter as Sorn, Catherine Elsen as Mash and Rita Reis as Emma all put in exquisite performances, while Matthew Brown is outstanding as the sensible but simple Dev, whose quiet determination and patience does pay off to leave him enjoying “some really nice moments, actually.”
But the Con-Nina dynamic is at the core of the play, and is the relationship from which the audience will take most away. There is tragedy aplenty in both characters. Nina ends up calling Tirgorin “a beautiful... bored... brilliant devil”, but as Simon explains in her programme notes, at least “she has shown courage, she has evolved…”. Con’s self-destructive nature simmers below the surface. His seemingly wanton shooting of the titular bird is a terribly misguided act that leaves Nina horrified, then devastated as she acknowledges that Con’s love for her was “better and more than anyone ever has or ever will…” It will be interesting to see how John Brigg and New World Theatre Club handle this crucial element when they take on Chekhov’s original play next month.
Posner’s play ends on a satisfying note as the characters explain what happens for the rest of their lives, and one of them brings proceedings to as abrupt an end as the way in which the play started, and to rapturous opening night applause.
“Stupid Fucking Bird” is on at Théâtre des Capucins on 17, 22 &23 January at 8 p.m. Info and tickets here.