Photo by Jamie Breen

Photo by Jamie Breen

It’s quickly becoming my favourite way to enter the Blue Room. When the usher announces the start of the show and you shuffle towards the door, straightening out your eco-friendly slap band and handing it over to gain admission, before crossing the back of the stage to find your seat – while realising the play’s already started as you’re entering.

It happened in The Defence, and it happened again the other night in Songbird. Don’t worry, though – there was noticeably less nudity this time around (ah, precisely none). We walked in from the Blue Room bar straight into another pub, with small clustered tables, low lighting, a girl strumming a guitar and singing in the corner, and a bloke brooding at the bar that was directly behind me as I took my seat. We nursed our drinks on the tables, chattered quietly as we got settled, listened and applauded when the singer finished – she thanked us and said she’d return in a bit. As she left the stage a tall guy in a smart collared shirt approached her to say a nervous hi.

Photo by Jamie Breen

Photo by Jamie Breen

It was Brooke and Leon – the sister and best friend of Mike, who died in circumstances unknown to Leon – and he’d returned home from Perth to ask Brooke, who was the last person to see him alive. When I spoke to Songbird‘s writer and producer, Shakara Walley, last week, I told her I was impatient to find out what had happened, and she laughed in exactly the way a person with a secret laughs.

Which is the exact way I’m going to describe this play now.

Songbird is a piece of contemporary theatre by Shakara and director Ian Wilkes, who are both participants in Yirra Yaakin’s Next Steps program for emerging Indigenous theatre-makers. The word emerging is key there – Songbird is Shakara’s debut as a playwright, and Ian has just two other directing credits to his name. For the inexperience of its team, the play does well – it’s a joyful, earnest piece, that has some really lovely moments – though equally, I’m excited to see this team develop, and down the track address some of the flaws present in this work.

Ian makes good use of Patrick Howe’s set, moving his characters between the stage, a standing table, and a set of chairs in time with the play’s darker and lighter moments, cleverly keeping a brooding Mike lurking (literally and figuratively, I suppose) at the fringes of the scene. You can see the uneasiness in Brooke and Leon’s posture as they stand stiffly during their initial greeting; Sharaka told me when we spoke that she wanted to explore what happens when one person wants to reconcile with another, but the second isn’t interested, and that disconnect came across loud and clear.

Songbird Hi-Res (19 of 31)

Photo by Jamie Breen

Equally, though, the frostiness came from the actors’ awkwardness with one another: I second Simon Clark’s comment that the relationship between Bethany Cooper as Brooke and James Taylor as Leon seemed unconvincing. Their dialogue is at times clunky, relying on cliches and peaking unexpectedly into high-intensity moments when a slower build-up would have been more compelling – but where Shakara does excel is in teasing out the relationship between the three friends, which we see deepening over the course of the play in little flashbacks, which only serve to make the present-day moment richer and sadder.

There’s a lot of potential here, and I’m excited to see this team grow. You can see they’re trying hard – which might actually be the source of the awkwardness; I’d like to see this drama more pared-back – and the moments where they do hook you in are powerful.

Songbird is playing at the Blue Room Theatre until Saturday. Tickets from the Blue Room website.

By Sophie Raynor

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Categories: Theatre

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