The play is a “shorty”, 75 minutes, no intermission, written by Stef Smith, and it is powerful. Even more so in the light of the current Brexit vote of Britain it shines a glaring light on how easily “people” are influenced through fear mongering, insecurities and hate. It starts lightly enough and ends in total destruction, burning houses and finally a tiny flicker that could be hope if it weren’t for the last chorus, uttered together, that tries to unmask the real threat but only manages to deepen the fear of the unknown that’s only conquered by trying to be as normal as humanly possible – they’ll take it down for christmas (the rope with which someone had hanged herself) – it will get in the way of all the lights.
The cast, of course, was amazing, especially Sargon Yelda as Si, the closeted married man with a child who rises in the ranks during this crisis. And Ian Gelder as John, who is trying to uphold normality within the chaotic breakdown of his world – he turns into the rock of his family, quite surprisingly so it seems, and he is also the one who loses everything in the process.
On to the play now: The leaflet says – In the overcrowded city, nature is getting out of control. The mice are scratching between walls, the pigeons are diseased and the foxes are beginning to rule the streets. The problem is growing. It’s contagious. it has to be stopped, before it’s too late.
What it doesn’t say, is that the play is a brilliant analogy to the fear mongering of today’s right wing politicians and the way they influence and steer people to their political advantage.
It starts with pigeons flying against the windows and dying in the backyards of family homes. Soon some unnamed higher power decides that they spread some kind of plague, undefined, but potentially dangerous. Even though Jamie decides to save one of the birds, and doesn’t get ill, consensus is that all birds must die. There are armed men in decontamination suits in the streets and they get rid of all birds – and foxes, because they spread illness as well. Si, charming and charmed by John, is ordering more and more “stuff” to deal with the “problem” – that is now approached with fire – they are burning the trees, the bushes, and after killing all the animals in the zoo, they’re setting fire to the last park, even though Alex, home from travelling abroad, chains herself to a fence to save the park in which she played with her late father.
John’s house burns down when they tried to kill a songbird on the roof – for the greater good. And he visits his sister in hospital who had tried to kill herself, deeply depressed about the death of her husband as well as about the collapse of her world. He sees her desperation, her lack of hope and even buys her a gun –
Jamie is given up to the authorities for having birds and foxes and mice in his attic – his wife who works for Si made the call. It was the right thing to do. And so Jamie is bludgeoned half to death and left outside his raided home to fend for himself, alone, frightened, until the foxes come at night to feed on him.
Until there are no more animals – except for the lioness from the zoo who escaped and vanished and now roams the derelict city – and rebuilding on all the expensive ground that had been emptied through the fires. No longer family homes but apartment buildings with expensive units, profitable…
When they ask us what we saw and what we did
All of us will just say
I stood and watched – I stood and watched – I stood and watched
and as the body began to disappear their beaks turned into noses, and their wings into arms, their feathers flatten and dulled into skin…
and their bodies became wrapped in cloth and they wiped the blood off their faces and topped up their Oyster cards and took the district line into town. And no one noticed. No one turned and stopped and said NOT THIS WAY…
at which point we were all sitting there, breathless, shocked and still shivering from the impact of the words and the acting. Especially when John finally reaches breaking point and confronts Si – who is trying to bully him – and gets very physical on stage.
So glad I got to see it – twice 😉 I hope they’ll be able to bring it back to the Royal Court Theatre or to the West End. As for stage door: I was there for the last show, which is traditionally the time for a farewell party. but my wonderful friends and I were certainly more than compensated as Ian Gelder sacrificed his break to come to the bar for a little chat. Thank you, Sir, it was more than just appreciated.