The Sociable Plover

Tim Whitnall
Feather Productions
Old Red Lion Theatre
(2005)

It's almost impossible to review this new play by Tim Whitnall without giving too much away of the twists and turns of the plot, but here goes…

Anally-retentive birdwatcher, Roy (Alex McQueen), arrives at his "hide", a remote shed frequented by twitchers, in order to capture on camera the Sociable Plover, a rare species and the only one of the 567 birds in the British Isles that Roy has never seen. He is confident, however, that this is going to be his Big Day.

His plans are thwarted by the arrival of Dave (Tim Whitnall, who is also the writer), a somewhat bedraggled man, with an air of mystery about him and tell-tale blood marks on his cuffs. He is most definitely not a birdwatcher, and not Roy's sort at all. Roy by contrast, is immaculately groomed, wearing a collar and tie and waistcoat (though the waistcoat has a more practical function later on). Roy, we learn, is an erstwhile keeper of garden gnomes, a scoutmaster whose job, until he was made redundant, was in a chicken paste factory. Dave was a painter and decorator, enjoyed murdering wasps when he was nine and had a nice collection of power tools. The scene is set for a clash of opposites, but neither is what he seems….

Both men are hiding secrets. Roy's involves his ex-wife, Sandra, whose photo he eerily keeps beside his Nutrigrain bar, flask and birdwatching paraphernalia. He talks to her photo throughout and calls her "Pumpkin". Dave's brother has just been killed in an accident in the RAF. The opposites begin to confide in each other until a police helicopter, some sandwiches with an unusual filling, and the Sociable Plover get in the way. If you want to know the rest, you'll have to see the play.

After an atmospheric but somewhat slow opening sequence where we see Roy setting his stall out, making sure his camera, binoculars and most important, thermos flask, are correctly positioned and perfectly aligned, the play picks up pace dramatically. Alex McQueen gives a well-judged performance of what we all imagine a nerdy birdwatcher to be. We can see why his wife left him for an AA man.

The play's structure works well. The audience are lulled into thinking it's a play about birdwatching then it suddenly veers off course into a delightful 'revenge comedy'. The twist is perfectly logical too, and not just manufactured for the sake of a surprise ending.

From his experience as an actor (not to mention as the narrator of Teletubbies), Whitnall has a good ear for dialogue which adds to the fun of the piece. We are subjected, for example, to Roy's annoyance at being called a "twatter", rather than "twitcher". Dave's character was less well developed and at times there were some incongruities. He hadn't heard of Edmund Hillary but had heard of Gulliver and was able to quote poetry.

The stage space at the Old Red Lion is relatively small and the L-shaped set designed by Chrystine Bennett made it smaller still, rendering a large chunk of it unusable. While this added to the claustrophobia of the hide, it made it difficult for the actors to move about.

The Sociable Plover is an enjoyable way to spend an hour and I look forward to seeing Whitnall's next play.

"The Sociable Plover" runs until 28th June

Bronagh Taggart