Tuesday, July 5

Birdwatching – London Horror Festival

I was pretty excited about the London Horror Festival, because I am a self-confessed horror fanatic. There are various fascinating psychological theories around why people like to feel fear which I’m not qualified to cite here or expand on, but for me it boils down to excitement. Books, plays, films, rollercoasters; it’s all about getting the adrenaline pumping around your body but also knowing that you are, at all times, perfectly safe.

Perfectly safe is not how Amy (Karen Barredo), one of the three characters in Birdwatching, would describe her position. An actress of small notoriety having appeared in a few slasher B movies, Amy arrives at a shelter deep in the woods to take on the role of Kate, accompanied by Pete (Arno van Zelst) – cameraman by trade, actor to help a friend – and Harris (Alfie Noble), the play’s author and all-round arrogant tortured artiste. Allusions are made to actors who were formally lined up to play Kate and Pete’s roles – by the end it’s not entirely clear what has happened to them, and the most obvious answer isn’t fleshed out enough to be the natural conclusion.

This, sadly, was my experience of Birdwatching – there was a lot of promise but ultimately it was full of intriguing ideas that didn’t really go anywhere. An early presentation and discussion about use of masks – a classic horror trope – had my heart racing with anticipation, but disappointingly the mask depicted on the poster does not play the role that its prominence in the promotional material would suggest. Similarly, there’s a recurrent theme of mixed or confused perceptions – people seeing things that aren’t there, or that others can’t see – but it’s never clear why. That for me is where the fear lies; what is this malevolent force, or curse, or monster, and why is it doing this? The extension of this idea being – could it do it to me?

I also felt the staging missed a bit of a trick – the stage itself was sparse but the floor to ceiling white wall backdrop could, I felt, have been better utilised. I kept hoping for an image or a shadow or something to give us an inkling of what the characters were seeing or feeling, but it was not to be. The lighting – credit to Ella Fitt – is simple but effective, accurately conjuring up the dying daylight you experience in winter – the bleak, quiet whiteness that I will always associate with bare trees and frost.

While the production and the plot didn’t do it for me, the acting managed to lift things. Noble as Harris is pure fragile male ego and perfectly portrayed (although again, his motivation is unclear) and I found myself rooting for the blossoming relationship between Amy and Pete and the possibility it held for them both. Not necessarily one I’d recommend in its current form, but with a cast that I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

Reviewer: Zoё Meeres

Reviewed: 22nd October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★

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