THEATRE REVIEW: The Birds, Leicester Square Theatre

Birds (2) - Glenn McCrory Emma Taylor Alice Marshall
(L-R) Glenn McRory, Alice Marshall and Emma Taylor in Birds

running until 9 October

Daphne du Maurier’s short story The Birds will be known to most people through its loose 1963 film adaptation, a classic in the Hitchcock oeuvre. This 80-minute condensed version of Conor McPherson’s stage adaptation (first seen at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 2009) retains du Maurier’s central character Nat, but again takes the story in a different direction, limiting the action to a single house where three survivors attempt to hold out in the face of ongoing bird attacks. It’s an approach that could work as a tense and chilling post-apocalyptic drama, particularly in the intimate space of The Lounge – but sadly it has little effect in the hands of the stilted and underpowered cast.

As the sometimes-narrator of the story, Diane, Emma Taylor gives the most credible performance of the production: she has the most secure grasp on her character – the most complex of the three – and successfully creates moments of tension. However, there are times that her portrayal of anger favours volume over emotion, and climactic scenes often fall flat. As Julia, the newcomer into the odd family unit, Alice Marshall sometimes shows what can be done with the role, with flashes of a fiery nature and a mysterious past; yet too often opportunities to create suspense are thrown away, with lines tailing off in a way that comes across as uncommitted to the character, or under-rehearsed.

Birds - Alice Marshall as Julia
Alice Marshall as Julia

Completing the trio, former boxer Glenn McRory makes a move into theatre as Nat, the most troubled figure in the play and the cause of many of the conflicts between the two women. McRory is woefully inadequate in the role: even taking into consideration that the character needs to illustrate nerves and uncertainties, the portrayal is passionless and floundering, and unfortunately drags down the dynamic between all three performers. There is an amateurish atmosphere to the whole evening that never disperses.

To create the kind of tension that this play so desperately craves, there needs to be a strong undercurrent of energy: the silences should buzz with unspoken terror, and the dialogue should crackle with emotion. This production of The Birds needs buckets more of both to engross the audience. Director Adam Morley does have a limited space, but everything is played very safe, even down to the sound effects – there is never a sense that these characters are really in danger. It’s disappointing that jealousy and a love triangle ends up being the dominant feature in the piece, when more interesting elements of the human psyche could be explored: the instinct to survive, the knowledge you are one of the last survivors on earth, and mankind’s fight against the natural world. This interesting potential fails to deliver the required intensity – a missed opportunity.

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