Birdland – Simon Stephens

Birdland is one of two Simon Stephens’ plays that I have actually seen in production. My original review of it is here. I did not buy the script last year (when it was 3£) because walking into the show I didn’t know if it would be ‘good enough’ that I wanted to have a copy. One year later I paid 10£ for it because I’m still thinking about it.

I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing. I was kind of disappointed in the production, which has festered into being oddly angry about it. My interest in this play and my desire to direct it (maybe even act in it) has a keen competitive edge to it that isn’t necessarily friendly. The play, as it was staged last year, did not give me anything I wanted or needed (which may, in fact, have been the notion), and I have a stubborn hunger to fix that (even as I understand that I might just be totally wrong about everything).

I’m certain I’m not the only one who is confused. Reviews were mixed. There was no agreement as to what the play is about. The Royal Court marketed on Paul’s line “Everything can be quantified.” (scene 2); some clung to the references to Baal (Brecht); and some went after the musical influences or the interpersonal conflicts. Having finally listened to Patti Smith’s song “Birdland” which charged the spirit (Stephens’ phrase) I think I understand the (pro)tagonist a bit more, but I still remember this play as hollow in a way that failed (for me).

That said, it reads pretty well. The text pulls at me. Makes me want to do the play (in a more benign spirit). There’s patter here that fills the ear. It’s a little bit Mamet in its elevated banality, repetition, and profanity; but I like Mamet. I think Mamet is good clay. Having seen one take on it gives me some idea of the range of emotional notes in the play. And I think the tone of capitalistic nihilism that Royal Court emphasized is there, it just needed a different hand on the tiller.

Cast: 18 Roles; doubling allowed; gender is kind of optional. Run Time: 90-100 minutes? 122 pages but no interval and really no beats between scenes. Synopsis: Paul is the local boy all blowed-up. Now an international rock star loving all the perks of fame, he’s on the last leg of a worldwide tour, which may have been running a bit too long.

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