The set design is eye catching; a steeply raked stage edged with grass, down stage an exposed toilet, upstage an old sofa. It gives the first clues about Sweet Bird andsoforth. The edges of the known universe, it seems to suggest, are clearly defined and the consequences of stepping outside the known boundaries are profound. This is confirmed by the six young actors who inhabit the space, each struggling with a newly minted independence. There are more questions than answers: do I stay in the known or go into the unknown, do I forge a life of difference or is it ok to simply aspire to a wife, kids and lotto every week? What life to live and how to live it?
Young German playwright Laura Naumann confronts big existential questions through the fears and insecurities of her 20-something characters. Sweetbird andsoforth is non-linear in shape and the dialogue is simple and repetitive. Poetic language bangs up against contemporary sentence structure at times creating comedic possibilities.
Perhaps it’s the translation, but somehow the earnestness of the cast gets in the way of the subtleties. Director Laura Scrivano has brought whimsy and an eye for detail to this production, but these characters take themselves far too seriously. Puncturing their self-importance by gently exploiting their insecurities would have liberated the audience from viewing the world through their narrow view-finder and helped create more empathy for their struggles-which are, after all, universal.
Two characters, Tiny and The Bomb, do finally make the break for freedom, whilst the others find a kind of release or salvation in love or companionship. It’s a worthwhile notion but the route there is dangerously self-indulgent. A less sympathetic, more robust directorial hand might have found a place for some tough love, stripped the characters pretentions back to their bare bones and found a greater emotional veracity. Michael Cutrupi’s performance as Cute Stuff gets closest to an emotional truth when he confesses, while being bullied, that all he really wants is a simple life, with a wife and child and to play Lotto every week, even if he loses. The others are prototypical characters, rudimentary in their development, more advertising clichés than real humans. Still, for all this, Sweetbird andsoforth is a rare insight into contemporary youth culture even if it is a Germanic version.
Mess Hall in association with atyp Under the Wharf
Sweet Bird andsoforth
by Laura Naumann | translated by Benjamin Winspear
Director Laura Scrivano
Venue: atyp Studio 1 | Pier 4/5 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Dates: 17 August – 10 September, 2011
Tickets: Adults $28 / Conc $23
Bookings: www.atyp.com.au / (02) 9270 2400