Writer: John Donnelly
Director: Esther Baker
Reviewer: Rosie Wheat
Burning Bird is a quick 50-minute play that tells one teenager’s story during the London Riots. It is astonishing: fast-paced, funny and emotional, you can sit back and watch 14 year old Daisy get swept up by the fiery atmosphere of those fateful summer days.
Written by award-winning playwright John Donnelly, Synergy Theatre is a company where professional actors and directors collaborate with ex-offenders and prisoners. The result is highly original and thought-provocative drama.
In true Brechtian style, the six-strong cast slip silkily from narrators to characters in Daisy’s life. With plenty of attitude and a quick temper, Daisy (played by Simone James) is sassy but charming, winning over the audience with her humour and her vulnerability. Simone James is phenomenal; she pushes the play forward with dizzying speed, flicking from narration to character with ease.
The entire cast are dedicated to their numerous rôles, resulting in a smooth-running production. Valentine Olukoga plays the sensitive Tyrone wonderfully, and Michael Smith is able to rev up the laughs in his imaginary car as trouble-making Morell, or cool the atmosphere as Daisy’s detached father, Roy.
Director Esther Baker has ensured the Brechtian style is fully adhered to; creating an interactive piece that encourages the actors to discuss the play as well as act it. It is well-staged, with the whole cast visible at all times, fully engaged and ready to react. With hidden laughs and quick emotional shocks, the audience is well kept from complacency.
The London riots are a hot topic at the moment, but this isn’t a political piece. The play offers the audience two sides of the story, encouraging us to think less of the damage caused by the riots, and more the reasoning behind it. While there may be a few clichés in the writing, it is undoubtedly a smart commentary on the riots. Donnelly has written Daisy as a character who we can fully empathise for, so when she inevitably ends up making bad decisions, we understand why.
Burning Bird does not try to explain the riots, nor condone or condemn them. It is simply a short story, a day in the life of a teenager, and it is quite extraordinary. If you want a slice of an insight into the reality of what happened in the riots, this is definitely worth watching.