When the Birds Come
- Liam Rees
- 14 August 2019
Script without self-awareness is complicit in the same problems it critiques
Climate change is undoubtedly a hot topic at the Fringe this year and there's a subsection of shows that examine the destructive relationship between colonialism and climate change, many of which can be lauded for amplifying indigenous voices in an extremely white festival. When The Birds Come is not one of them.
Taking the Yupik people of Alaska as its subject, When The Birds Come tells the fictional story of indigenous children Margaret and Stanley who are due to be relocated by government officials to the city as their lands have been threatened by climate change. It's revealed that the Yupik people were originally nomadic until colonists forced them to settle in one place: subsequently, the aforementioned colonists wreaked havoc upon the environment.
It's certainly a knotty subject and encouraging to see artists seeking out more complex ideas but Suffolk-born playwright, Talullah Brown, simply doesn't have enough artistic authority to speak for these people. It requires a lack of self-awareness for a playwright to write about the erasure of indigenous land and culture without including people from that culture.
Even assuming the best of artistic intentions, the end result is deeply disappointing. While it is certainly difficult to write believable dialogue for children, Brown's script doesn't rise to the challenge as it is littered with clumsy exposition and lacking in subtext. Frequently the children outright state how they feel which renders the characterisation shallow and unbelievable as well as simply being boring to listen to. The performances come across as childish rather than childlike and the lack of stage space means director Alexander Lass has little else to rely upon but the lacklustre script.
There's a strong starting point for this story but the creative team simply aren't able to give it the gravitas and poignancy that it deserves.
Underbelly Cowgate, until 25 Aug, 2.40pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).