Brighton Fringe 2008
Like Caged Birds
Venue: Regency Town House Basement Annexe, 10 Brunswick Square
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Sounds sweep through partitioned wine cellar, glass-roofed kitchen and cramped sleeping quarters: bells ring, heels click, cups clatter, kettle whistles. This sequel to LOOK NOW uncovers fragments of life below stairs.
Situated in the basement of The Regency Town House – a 19th century building that is in the process of being renovated and restored for public display – Like Caged Birds seeks to delve into the history of the building and draw out the ghosts that echo down the dusty passages ‘below stairs’. Inspired by the diary of William Tayler, a Footman and Acting Butler who came to stay in Brighton with his employer, Wired Theatre present a series of tableaus, vignettes and improvised scenes within damp and eerily airless stone chambers, corridors and courtyards.
What is so enjoyable and rewarding about work like this is that responsibility lies much more with the audience in terms of how their experience of the piece is shaped. We decide what to see, what to concern ourselves with, who to follow, what to watch and what to walk away from. One ends up with a unique experience of a story; not necessarily seeing and knowing everything but having the sense that the story has happened around us.
Like Caged Birds successfully weaves it’s way around and through us, as if we were the ghosts; observing and unseen. Flickers, residues and half-stories are pieced together through overheard conversations and chance encounters. The various dimensions of relationships between the characters are revealed in detailed and artfully specific work by the performers; sometimes obvious and theatrical, sometimes private, subtle and only revealed by a curious glance through a window. These subtleties were beautifully placed and orchestrated, contrasting with set pieces and wide-ranging soundscapes.
The action occasionally relied too heavily on non-verbal means to tell the story. The improvised nature of the encounters between characters worked well at times but I would like to have heard more specific text placed at intervals throughout the performance. This could serve to enhance the poetry inherent in the surroundings and drive the narrative. However, what Like Caged Birds lacks in narrative, it makes up for in atmosphere, tone and subtle haunting beauty.