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Today I Killed My Very First Bird – Pleasance Courtyard

The staging calls to mind Play by Samuel Beckett. In that play, three actors are sat in a row facing the audience, and spotlights are only on any character when they are speaking. It’s difficult to perform, I’m told, not because the script is particularly taxing, but because there’s a precision needed in the rapidly-paced play and as the actors only ever face the audience and not each other, they are unable to ‘bounce off’ one another in the way they would under more conventional dialogue settings.

Today I Killed My Very First Bird - Courtesy Chloe Nelkin Consulting.
Today I Killed My Very First Bird – Courtesy Chloe Nelkin Consulting.

Technically, there is some movement in this play, although to be blunt I’m not sure why they bothered, given the very limited turnaround space: the stage is dominated by a long table, as though this were a press conference. “You can’t imagine what it means to be me,” asserts Jason Brownlee, playing a London gangster who didn’t choose that lifestyle – the lifestyle chose him. The audience need not imagine, as it happens, as there are so many vivid descriptions of what goes on – it is, to quote from the script, a life of “pain and endless misery”, and the poetry in the story more often than not heightens tensions between the Brownlee’s central character and the various people he encounters.

There are moments, however, when one feels this play has thrown the kitchen sink, and then some, at the narrative arc. The gangster did not, for instance, have an easy upbringing, with an abusive father and a mother who declared her flesh and blood to be a ‘see you next Tuesday’ (as it were), and injects drugs somewhere very undesirable on account of there being no other available veins. So much goes on I momentarily struggled to keep up with it all – there’s more drugs, more alcohol, and the planning and execution of a robbery, and guns pulled on anyone who might be more of a hindrance than a help.

It brought to mind a social media meme that went around during lockdown, which claimed, perhaps only half-jokingly, that the year 2020 was written by Stephen King and directed by Quentin Tarantino. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the same about this play – it’s a gloriously no-holds-barred and intense experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Pacey, powerful, and heartbreakingly authentic, Today I Killed My Very First Bird explores hope and despair, combining immersive sound and bold storytelling to create a vivid and visceral theatrical experience. Theatre Royal Plymouth and Voodoo Monkeys co-produce an unflinching, relentless and stomach-churning new play based on writer and performer Jason Brownlee’s lived experience.

Today I Killed My Very First Bird
Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 3rd – Monday 29th August 2022

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