Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Guy Masterson, playing ornithologist "Roy Tunt" and Ronnie Toms as "Dave John" are superb foils for each other in Tim Whitnall’s darkly comic tale of a twitcher with more on his mind than rare birds.
Lights gently come up on a twitchers’ hut. Enter Roy Tunt, ornithologist, carefully tidying up, ready for a possible marathon shift watching for the prize sighting of that rarest of birds, the Sociable Plover, talking to a framed photo of his wife. Enter "Dave", a name quickly plucked from the air by a character with a hunted look in his eye. Why is Dave out here in the wilderness? Is he really walking off a hangover, simply sheltering from the rain?
The claustrophobic setting of a small hut in a flooded forest provides the ideal vessel for a black comedy that is full of witty interplay, allowing both Ronnie Toms and Guy Masterson to play off each other, explore the human condition, get on each other’s nerves and, most of all, find common ground through their mutual differences.
Secrets are hinted at, secrets are revealed in a play that manages to flow beautifully from start to finish. There’s a marvellous sense of waiting, not just for the bird of the play’s title to finally show itself, but also for the mysteries at the heart of the play to also emerge. Silences are as important as the witty dialogue; there’s as much comedy in a sideways glance or a grunt from Masterson as there is from some of the marvellous banter that forms the engine of this two-hander. Ronnie Toms plays "Dave John" with such impressive comic timing, he’s funny as a straight man to Masterson’s highly comic attempt to be the straight man himself. We end up with an often hilarious verbal duel of two men both trying to be the straight man. What a bit of genius writing!
This is a play with all the hallmarks of outstanding direction: pitch-perfect timing between the two characters; an attention to detail – the opening five minutes of the play are hilarious as we enjoy Tunt’s ritualistic tidying of the Twitchers’ hut. Tension builds well towards the end of the play and, without revealing, the tale’s sting, the reaction of the audience said it all – the build-up is perfect, the climax just right, the ending, touching and played with just the right touch of pathos.
Dialogue plays work best when the writer isn’t noticed and, in The Sociable Plover, the writer has retreated into the background allowing the comedy to blend splendidly with the darker themes and unfolding events. The director has allowed the very best in these two actors to come forward as well – the tension between the two of them, which develops into a kind of uneasy "entente cordialle" is the basis for much of the comedy punch.
The set is all of a piece, and there’s much to be said here for the symmetry of it – we’re right-angle-on, seeing two sides of the hut, looking through invisible outer walls into the space; and there’s clever lighting and soundscape to really evoke the twitchers’ realm.
Fine writing, fine acting, sharp and strong directing, this is direct, dark comedy theatre at its very best.