Home » Reviews » Off West End » The Early Bird, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

The Early Bird, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Leo Butler

Directed by Zoe Thomas-Webb
★★
Pros: Strong, intense performances from a small cast; a minimal but thoughtful set design.
Cons: An incredibly confusing script made the show nearly impossible to follow.
Our Verdict: Despite a true effort, the show failed to hold my interest throughout a confusing and disjointed story line.
Courtesy of KDC Theatre
The Early Bird, from amateur company KDC Theatre, recently experienced a short run at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Always a delightful venue, the Lion and Unicorn’s simple, black box environment suited this family drama well. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, the show fell flat as I spent most of it trying to figure out what, if anything, was actually happening.
The Early Bird is the story of parents whose daughter has disappeared – at least this is what the summary proclaims, though I’m not sure I would have fully gathered that had I not red a small snippet about the show beforehand. This is the crux of the issue for the production – the script is disjointed and sporadic, making it practically impossible to stay engaged in the action, since it is so difficult to determine what’s happening on stage. It attempts an abstract, avant-garde exploration of those terrifying early hours when a child doesn’t return home as expected. Again, these are suppositions, because the play never made clear where we were in time, or what exactly had taken place. It jumps through time and memory relentlessly; the characters are also ill developed, so unfortunately they don’t serve as an anchor throughout.
While performers Thom Petty and Kate Sketchley, who portray the parents of the apparently disappeared Kimberly, aptly display the anger and fear of the experience, is feels displaced and confusing amidst a sea of lines that make no sense. A lack of empathy is a problem as well – because we never have even the briefest moment to confront the issue at hand, it’s very difficult to excuse or even begin to understand the bad behavior of the parents. Furthermore, the conflicting information throughout makes it difficult to know what is true and false.
While the script certainly made it a difficult one to sit through, there were some positive elements to point out. First is the simple but effective set design, which serves as perhaps the only anchor throughout the production. A simple rise offered the ability for levels, allowing for dynamic blocking and maximization of space. Beneath the rise were boxes full of children’s toys and belongings, reminding us of the presence of the seemingly missing child. Of course the set provided a bit of a complication for me as well: I might have been ready to excuse the fractured, incomprehensible script as intentionally abstract and surreal had the set not been so functional and clear.
Another thing worth reinforcing is that the two-actor cast of Petty and Sketchley made a solid attempt the cut through the mess of dialogue, and thankfully their focused performances eased the frustration as best it could. Their chemistry in tenser scenes was particularly interesting to watch, rendering the confusing events and structures less necessary to grasp at times. The best scenes were probably the short instances where Petty took on the persona of Kimberly – the mother-daughter dynamic between the two was quite well crafted.
Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort, I still don’t know what The Early Bird was really about. The short run ends on 30th March, but don’t despair; you’ve possibly avoided a headache in missing this one.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Early Bird has now finished its run at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre. For more information about the show, visit http://www.kdctheatre.com/category/current-season/spring-2013/early-bird/. To book tickets for future shows at the Lion and Unicorn, visit http://www.giantolive.com/.

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