Birdwatchers' Wives

Caroline Smith

Summerhall

From 02 August 2014 to 24 August 2014

Rating: **

Review by Seth Ewin

Reality television through the eyes of a great crested grebe is certainly an original concept and no doubt helps the show stand out amongst the flocks of other Fringe shows. Overall, the piece however is more like a moa than a grebe, as it never manages to really take off.

The central performance is very full-on; Smith is totally immersed in her character Rita Grebe. Helped by David Curtis-Ring's fantastic costume. A large quivering outfit that allows Smith to strut, preena and flap about the stage. Though Smith's act does tend towards more crazed reality television star, than exploration of an elegant water bird.

If you are an ornithologist or have seen a great crested grebe (they are quite common), you will note the costume's great attention to detail. And it captures the spirit of the bird, interestingly eschewing any feathers at all in its design.

Smith has plenty of energy and this is all focused into a very strange character part-bird, part-diva, it is extraordinary, but also rather grating after a while.

Technically, it is a strong production; there are some well edited film sections that have Smith appearing on the news as Deborah Disney. Just in case the audience thought Smith genuinely lived as a bird in real life.

There is some support from Grouse (Louise Leonard) as Rita's assisstant, but we never get to learn much about this character and she doesn't seem to have taken on the whole bird character like Smith, so is practically invisible beside Smith's audience chewing performance.

The show's downfall is both its unimaginative plot that doesn't really lead anywhere and also the relentlessness of Smith's act, which grows tiring and makes it difficult to empathise with. A few quieter moments and perhaps showing some other sides to this big character might have helped. The BirdOrffff, which forms the piece, might have been better if left more to the imagination. 

There is plenty of absurdity and Smith is a very confident performer, but the whole piece feels rather lacking in meaning and direction. It never quite reaches the dark places it could soar to and the ending is rather inconclusive and feathery. A flightless bird.