Photo by Jeff Busby
Melbourne Theatre Company’s latest offering, Simon Stephen’s Birdland, is the story of an out-of-control rock star which, unfortunately, struggles to make an emotional impact.
Set at the end of a world tour, the play focuses on Paul (Mark Leonard Winter), the aforementioned rock star whose fame and fortune is at an all-time high. With a disregard for all those around him, the show charts his downfall and his inability to connect with the real world.
As Paul, Winter, who is on stage for the entire 2.15 hours of the show, is fascinating to watch but you cannot help but want to know more about his character. The main problem with this show is within its inability to allow the audience to truly understand why Paul is who he is. We know he’s selfish, arrogant and unable to connect to other people but we never quite understand how he got to be this way and what it is about him that allows others to accept his terrible behaviour. While we do live in a society that worships fame, the character of Paul is so unlikable that it is hard to comprehend why anyone would put up with him. Is it purely the glamour of the rock star life that draws people to him or is there something we are missing?
Peta Sergeant is delightful as Jenny, the Russian room service maid who follows Paul on his journey and brings a much-needed warmth and grounding to the show, as does Bert LaBonté in his multiple roles (especially as Paul’s father). Meanwhile, Jethro Woodward’s sound design is intense and pulsating and superbly highlights Paul’s eventual breakdown. Birdland presents us with some of Australia’s most interesting acting talents but unfortunately the show doesn’t really give them the chance to show what they really have to offer.