‘Jailbirds’ is a show with a solid concept and the ability to hold its audience in a perpetual state of intrigue. To begin with, the focus is on Heath (Molly Jones), a psychopath being held in an underground cell who loves to taunt and test her jailers. There are moments of sharp, insightful dialogue in the script, for instance Heath’s repeated pronouncement that being “rich, white, and a genius” are the keys to success. Jones’ portrayal is nuanced, although at times the writing and direction of the character veers towards the psychopath cliché: for example, the use of classical music and the premature introduction of her past trauma into the narrative.
The play soon directs the audience’s interest towards Moira (Stella Richt), a woman who has seemingly elected to spend five days observing and interacting with Heath in her cell as part of a psychiatric test. We are quickly drawn to question Moira’s true intent and her curious relationship with the officers imprisoning Heath. The show throws the audience into the action from the offset and so certain details remain unclear: the cell is singular and non-governmental; Heath appears to have special privileges, such as music; the guards’ actions seem unregulated. Mystery is the strongest element of this production and it does an impressive job of sustaining it, by drip-feeding information to the audience over the course of the piece.
The creation of the set by cast members at the beginning of the performance is innovative, the white tape on the floor symbolising the cell but also reminiscent of a boxing ring or a tennis court – a sign that a battle of wits is about to ensue. The inclusion of physical theatre at other points throughout feels a bit too self-conscious and needs more polish to really add anything to the show.
Writer and director Luke Culloty also makes a cameo appearance in the piece, dressed as a member of the tech crew. In a way this complemented the themes of performance and deception which run through relationships in the play but, in a play with so many other mysteries and uncertainties, it was perhaps one too many for an hour-long show.
This is a play in which the interest lies entirely in its conclusion, or rather how it will explain itself. This puts a lot of pressure on the ending. It lived up to this hype with a truly unexpected twist: Culloty has mastered misdirection in his writing. However, there were points in the middle of the piece where I found myself wishing for the pace to increase or the dialogue between Heath and Moira to develop a little further. Heath’s interactions with her prison guard (played by Fred Woodley Evans) were well-acted and give much-needed nuance to the tone of the overall performance, which otherwise rests heavily on suspense and a general ominousness. There is also something particularly uncanny about the facial tics and physical mannerisms of Officer Oml (played by Evangelina Burton) and I wish we could have seen more of her character in the first half of the play.
For a small production, the special effects make-up which convey Heath’s partial blindness and bruising is very effective. I reviewed Culloty’s Artifical in July and the company already seems to have developed and improved in that short time. It is a shame that the ticket price doesn’t seem to have been adjusted for the shorter length, however I do think the one-hour runtime suits this type of narrative. The Etcetera Theatre sits above a pub and this show would be a fantastic start to an evening of socialising.
PHOTOS: Etcetera Theatre