Writer Christine Croyden weaves a rich ornithological allegory in The World without Birds, the latest offering from Melbourne Writers’ Theatre, at the La Mama Courthouse.
In this semi-autobiographical fable, The Queen of Birds (Margot Knight) recounts the course of her life and her career, unpacking and exploring a lifetime of memories that she has collected and woven into the tapestry of her ‘nest’. Walking within these memories, she communes with Sybil (Charlotte Fox), a living vision of her past self, and exists as both cautionary mentor and nostalgic voyeur. Through the hardships and happiness of youth, love, and a successful career that is not without its trials, the two travel together, warbling the birdsong of this epic tale.
Croyden’s writing is rich with thoughtful and vivid imagery. The avian analogy acts as a strong conceptual framework for the narrative without straying into the all-too-easy trap of laborious puns or ham-fisted wordplay. Her protagonists resonate with a genuine authenticity and the script balances the whimsy of its tale with punchy social commentary.
The play’s score, composed and musically directed by Ella Filar, is strongly rooted in the off-kilter time signatures of Weimar Kabaret and provides an unusual lilt that complements this delightful story rather wonderfully. Every so often, the occasionally rapid tempo of a verse or a chorus does not allow the dense content of some of the lyrics the space it needs to land and a delicious phrase or punch line is lost. Despite this, there is plenty of sharp political commentary and clever wordplay to be had within Filar’s lyrics.
Knight is captivating as The Queen as she dips and glides from memory to memory, with a knowing cheekiness that is delightful to watch.
Fox is strong as Sybil and charts her character’s journey across decades with great dexterity, and her vocals soar within each musical number.
Rhys James and Nathaniel Schneider are perfectly irritating as a whole flock of supporting antagonists, and provide great fodder for Knight’s wickedly dismissive matriarch.
The World without Birds is an intelligent, vivacious and thoroughly charming contemporary parable, which gleefully celebrates the tenacity and resilience necessary to survive in a fierce and ruthless world.