Kibo’s production of the Birthday is a naturalistic two hander about Leila, played by the talented Lara Marray, facing up to her feelings of isolation and failure on her birthday. As such it is a solid no frills fringe production: the set, lights and other production elements are minimal and there is very little physicality or thought given to visual or physical storytelling. The production would have worked well as a radio play, where dialogue is everything.
With this in mind it is interesting to see how much thought went into the staging and shooting of the fantastic production trailer (see below) . It is as much a compliment to filmmaker Katy Tuck, as a criticism of the actual production, to say that there is far more inventiveness and creativity displayed in the film than the show itself. I would be interested to see what Kibo could do if they set their sights on the silver screen rather than the stage in their next project.
As we enter the small back room of the Sheephaven Bay in Mornington Crescent we are greeted with the sight of a man, dressed in black, sitting on the edge of the small stage apparently lost at the bottom of his glass of whisky. The pre-set has become something of cliché of current theatre. Now I’m not saying all pre-sets are bad, but that they should be used carefully, and unless they can be justified as helping to carry the narrative of the show, removed all together. In the case of Birthday there could have been a justification – the background sounds of a crowded north london boozer filtering in on the lonely drinker could have created a sense of loneliness and estrangement. And indeed when the show did kick off – it was clear that the production was trying reference the bar noise outside as being the party which the two characters are escaping from.
It was a clever idea, but sadly one that didn’t quite work. It would have needed the cast to be aware and respond to the sounds of the bar much more – to actually notice and be effected when there was a swell or lull in the sound from outside. It would have needed a level of flexibility and improvisation that isn’t easy in a scripted play – but having made the choice to use the actual bar as an element in the production it’s what would have been needed.
This aside the cast did a commendable job. It isn’t easy playing to a small fringe crowd – on the night I saw the show the Camden Fringe were doing their best to prove they can live up to Edinburgh’s reputation for having an average audience size in single digits: so the cast really are to be commended for their energy and commitment.
Lara Marray did a fantastic job of playing the slightly whining Leila: not once letting her accent drop and showing some genuine emotion along the way. Andrew Glen’s brooding mono-tone Kyle was a much less developed character, and although the script didn’t offer much to help this, I did think that it was a shame director Sharon Willems didn’t bring out more shades of colour within Kyle’s character. There is a fine line between a character being brooding an enigmatic on the one hand or simply underdeveloped on the other.
In general this would be my query with the whole piece – I simply didn’t find either of the characters engaging. Maybe it’s because I’m too English, but the whining American girl at a party, who thinks other people should care about her life, as she shares uncomfortable amounts of information, isn’t a person I particularly want to meet either in real life or on the stage. The bottom line is the production told us how the characters were feeling rather than helping us experience those feelings ourselves: potentially entertaining – but little else.
Leila – Laura Murray,
Kyle – Andrew Glen,
Director – Sharon Willems,
Production Assistant – Jonathon Marx,
Graphic Designer – Ben Galpin,
Filmmaker – Katy Tuck