Review: When the Birds Come at Underbelly
3★★★

Tallulah Brown’s follow-up to last year’s Fringe hit Songlines is a meandering meditation on sibling relationships, betrayal and environmental disaster. Based on the real-life struggles of the Yupik tribe in Arctic Alaska as the melting permafrost threatens their village, we follow teenage Margaret and her little brother Stanley as they plan to run away to the safety of Anchorage and their aunt Adele. 

Margaret’s sharp eyes and ears have picked up on the tensions in the tribe, as many wait for the slow process of government relocation to run its course, offering hope that the village can stay together. Meanwhile, her big-city dreams make her wish for a different path from her parents and grandfather, and she’s decided Stanley has to come with her, no matter the cost to him or anyone else. 

Despite strong performances by actors Phoebe Vigor and Zak Douglas, the childhood phase of the play falls somewhat short of creating enough tension, and when the siblings meet as adults it doesn’t feel like a satisfying enough pay-off. This may be down to the short running time, as a longer scene between the two could explore more deeply the gulf that has opened up over the years. As it is, it feels as though something is missing.

Roly Witherow has composed an excellent soundtrack and the sparse staging suits the story well. However, When the Birds Come feels like the beginning of a solid production, which with more development could find those moments that would make this into a really exciting play. 

When the Birds Come, Underbelly, 1-25 Aug (not 12), 2.40pm

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