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Three Birds (Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It is exciting to attend a world premiere particularly when the writer of Three Birds has, in return for her hard work, won a long stint at the Royal Exchange Studio Theatre.

For Janice Okoh is the 2011 winner of the Bruntwood competition for playwriting conducted annually by the theatre. Her dark comedy, set in East London, will later go to the Bush Theatre in Hammersmith. The writer is clearly honoured to have her work directed by the renowned Sarah Frankcom, the RET’s Artistic Director.

The birds within the title are not of the feathered variety but two young girls and their brother, left alone to fend for themselves or flee the nest. Substitute mother is Tiana. In that role, Michaela Coel looks after the house and checks on her sister’s homework.  Although she appears confident, she is basically immature and dreams of living in a big, posh house.

Meanwhile, Tionne (Jahvel Hall) is decidedly odd spending his time doing outlandish experiments. In terms of performances, Susan Wokoma shines as the young Tanika. She comes over as a lovely, bouncy child with a crush on her teacher, Ms Jenkins. She, in turn, is played by Claire Brown and her relationship with Tanika is interesting.

Lee Oakes is lively and funny as Dr Feelgood but I wonder whether his character is really necessary? And that is a problem with this play. As interesting as it is, at times you feel that it is too uneven and quirky for its own good. 

Everything erupts in the second half when the play becomes more like a horror story than a comedy, albeit it a black one. A fascinating, yet flawed debut then - from a writer who is promising enough to seek out next time around.

- Julia Taylor


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