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‘Pulling back the layers’: BIRDS & BEES – Theatre Centre (Online review)

A production of the Theatre Centre, in association with Soho Theatre, Birds and Bees is an important new dramatic addition to the discussion around sexting, consent, and “revenge porn”.

Charlie Josephine has written a play set in a secondary school, where four teenagers find themselves in detention. There has been an “incident” involving two of their classmates, and they are thrown together to craft a suitable response.

The plight of both Jack and Chantelle (never seen but always present in the text as the four young people battle against their prejudices and loyalty to their friends) comes back to a series of intimate texts and images, which have now been widely shared.

At first it seems as if the expected reactions have taken place, with the girl shamed and the boy getting away with it, but life is never that simple.

Each of the actors on stage here brings a clearly defined and powerful performance to the piece: Aarron (played by Ike Bennett) is the typical wide boy, the class joker, at first; his girlfriend Leilah (played by Narisha Lawson) is more relaxed and understanding, although she has the veneer of a bully early on.

They are joined by Maisey (played by Ida Regan), the highly-strung swot, at first naive, but showing a degree of warmth and friendship to the others. Later, Billy, (played by EM Williams) a non-binary pupil Aarron dismisses as a “freak”, joins the trio.

At first, Birds and Bees plays like a traditional school drama, where kids lark about, mock the teachers and each other, and shy away from discussing “the incident”.

Only Maisey seems to realise the gravity of Jack and Chantelle’s act, and when she is backed up by Billy’s thoughtful perspective as an outsider (they are “not a girl or a boy”), things start to shift.

This production is aimed at those very teenagers who have grown with both social media and the constant need to affirm themselves through sharing their images. It is a warning on how far this can go before it becomes not just silly, but downright dangerous.

These teenage characters on the stage are each vulnerable in their own ways, as we soon see, and affected directly by the actions of their friends. Their interactions are also funny and will surely reach those of similar age and enable them to discuss these tricky topics.

The four also act out the events which led to the texts and images being leaked from Jack’s phone: on the face of it, a laddish prank but something which can easily get out of hand. It is a moment of peer pressure which quickly backfires.

Rob Watt’s production mixes a realistic classroom setting with unusually lit and filmed scenes which can only be described as “within the imagination”: some just a couple of seconds, others much longer.

It gives the effect of pulling back the layers to see what is going on in each character’s private thoughts. Moments of turmoil and tension which cannot quite be expressed.

There is an excellent use of movement (directed by Damilola ‘DK’ Fashola) throughout, with both fluid and sudden gestures which add to the words being said. I found this particularly intriguing when it played out a memory between Aarron and Leilah, hinting at their own relationship dynamic.

Filmed on the stage at The Albany, the use of space, lighting and sound (the production is designed by Moi Tran, with sound and composition by XANA) brings the play to life throughout.

Image credit Helen Murray.

Birds and Bees streams on Soho on Demand from 8-28 March. It is also available as a free digital package to schools.

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from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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