Today I Killed My Very First Bird

Jason Brownlee
Voodoo Monkeys Theatre Company
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Jason Brownlee

Wow!

Brutal, relentless and definitely not for the faint-hearted, Jason Brownlee’s punchy, semi-autobiographical poetic story tells of seedy lives of addiction—to crime, drugs, booze, sex and money.

At a turning point in his gangster life, Brownlee weaves his life story into the spellbinding countdown to the explosive moment of redemption.

Born dead in Lewisham and raised in and out of a corrupt care system and a home with alcohol, drugs and violence for tea, Brownlee vividly describes the urine stench-filled pub culture, abuse and neglect, the pivotal moment for his 13-year-old self and the child long dead; medicating the trauma deep inside and realisation that life is cheap.

Said to be a developing piece—though seems near-perfect—from the Theatre Royal Plymouth Lab Associate company Voodoo Monkeys with Lee Hart directing and Brownlee on design, the stage is swathed in darkness with just the (superbly talented all) cast of five seated behind a long table, a desk light putting each into the spotlight by turns as they lean into the microphone and audience.

Props are few: little more than £50.00 notes, white powder, phones and a flower as colourful characters are conjured vividly from the stillness and gloom. We are introduced to Brownlee’s dysfunctional family: racist grandfather applauding "fuck it" as the child’s first words; gran who would bath him in the sink and had a tin full of buttons and lace; dad who was frustrated and hard, and abusive stepfather wrestling his mother in shattered glass on the floor.

There is tea with his Western-loving mum (Sue Raphael) chatting about the price of milk and Kilroy Silk as her leg turns blue from gin and gear, and the padlocks rattle at the door.

Then there are his associates: the sex-loving goddess of the squalid suburbs Bernie (stand-out new graduate Amber L Jacobs) with her litany of sordid encounters, and Rolex and diamonds in her Wonderbra; shagster Joe (Sham Ali) who has an unfortunate itch for more than power, needs a bulletproof vest over his heart of ice and is ever-ready to shoot his load with devastating effect; and Brandon Howard playing pimps and more with a yard full of guns and drugs, scared of the inevitable knock on the door.

With champagne and Charlie; Remy whisky; Dodgy DVDs; a gold-plated Glock, Nikes and a lightweight ‘middle eight’ Texas Rose dream/trip—Brownlee’s Edinburgh Fringe-bound tale is clever, compelling and an absolute must-see.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell