There’s a beautiful little songbird singing for audiences at The Blue Room these next few wintry nights, and she’s not letting this cold snap interfere with the warm little show she’s playing in. The songbird is performer Beth Cooper, and the warm little show is Songbird, written by Shakara Walley, directed by Ian Wilkes and supported by Yirra Yaakin Theatre. Her gentle song welcomes us into the theatre and into the story of three small-town young folks whose strong bonds transcend tragedy.
Structurally, Walley uses flashbacks and song to weave a bittersweet story of love and loss in a remote town covered in red dirt. In an outback pub, Brooke (Beth Cooper) is performing a solo music set when in walks a figure from her past. It’s her old companion Leon (James Taylor) who has returned home from a new life in Perth as a government consultant on Aboriginal affairs. During her break, they catch up over drinks and begin to reminisce about their past and the events that led to their estrangement.
They replay scenes from their memory and are thus joined by a third character, Brooke’s brother Mike (Zac James), Leon’s best friend. The three enjoy a jovial, mischievous, supportive dynamic, until a secret is revealed, decisions are made, and tragedy strikes. We are then whisked back to current day when Brooke and Leon try to make sense of events and forgive themselves and each other for the past.
The three performers share a comfortable dynamic, and Cooper and James exhibit a tangible bond in their scenes together to make a rather believable brother and sister. Taylor approaches his role with a slightly different style than Cooper and James, but this adds variety to the dynamic and makes for some unexpected offhand charm in the mix. There are a few moments when these young actors anticipate each others’ cues, and some of the opening exchanges felt slightly rushed, so making sure they give themselves the time to listen and react to each other (without leaving gaping silent holes, obviously) would really enrich their performances. The trio really gels when the boys share a joint and Brooke talks about the stars in a scene that encapsulates this little triangle’s dynamic.
Set Designer Patrick Howe has put us in a cabaret, complete with red curtains, a checkerboard floor and round tables topped with candles. This arrangement creates even more of an intimacy than usual in the small Blue Room space, and many of wanted to hang out and enjoy our post-show drinks in the cosy low-lit theatre after the show was over. He also cleverly hid the tech desk behind a fake bar, and where normally you’d find glasses and fridges, there were Macs and light and sound boards.
Shakara Walley is yet another strong female theatre producer making her writing debut this year at The Blue Room, and Songbird sees Season One end on a high note.
The Blue Room Theatre and Imprint Productions in association with Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company present
by Shakara Walley
Director Ian Wilkes
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James Street, Northbridge
Dates: 7 – 18 July 2015
Bookings: blueroom.org.au | (08) 9227 7005