Molly Stewart

Latitude Festival comedy review: The Bird

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With pleasingly absurd comedian Stuart Laws compering the Literature tent on Sunday, the Film and Music arena played host to Laws’ production company Turtle Canyon’s short film, the darkly comic The Bird, starring Julia Davis.

A son quietly seeks his emotionless mother’s attentions, but in the fallout of a freak death she finds most comfort in feeding a solitary starling in the garden, pushing him to increasingly drastic measures to have an effect on her.

Julia Davis as a bereaved, bitter, bird obsessive is perfectly straight, gleefully glum in the darkly funny style she excels so frequently at. The whole exercise is reminiscent of that sort of League of Gentlemen grotesque, but always remains outside of turning the story and its character’s into caricatures: they’re bizarre, certainly, but nothing about them is outwardly ridiculous.

More than that, they are sinisterly sad. Davis’ increasingly theatrical make-up and costume (not to mention Roberts final, sadly cheerful, creaking bird costume) makes the scene still and grey, but without any over the top elements of exaggerated emotion. Davis and Roberts’ mother and son are just skewed enough without becoming freakish.

One third of sketch group Sheeps, Alastair Roberts matches Davis rhythmically emotionless mother with his increasingly desperate son. Roberts is understated and straightforward, an unassuming actor with an ability to make himself shrink away on stage. His face here exudes a bleak innocence that is painful against Julia Davis cold, unyielding mother.

Written by Ben Target and directed by him and Joe Parnham, The Bird is grimly funny tale, set-dressed with ornamental bird after ornamental bird – sugar pots, clocks, ornaments and decorations. A red-eyed, top hat-clad plastic toucan fixed to the fridge interior, bleating out ‘Ooh! Greedy!’ when the door is opened is a creepy, intense, pressure-building force on Alastair Roberts.

It’s beautifully shot and produced. The film is dark, and sad in parts – in particular a shot of Davis whistling flickeringly for  the bird her desperate, deprived son has stamped out, teary mascara running down her face – but the sturdy roster of comedy talent behind the film ensure there are enough bleak laughs and grim smiles raised.

Date of live review: Sunday 19 July 2015 @ Henham Park, Suffolk.