Self harm, suicide, scatology, violence, vomiting and animal abuse; this play’s definitely been creative earning its 16 plus rating. Originally devised and performed in Canada, its done a road trip round Europe, and has now dropped its writer/performer in the further reaches of the city. Clutching her suitcase, Haley McGee’s character Mission Bird bounces on stage, retreats, returns, vibrating with anxiety: “I did it, but it wasn’t my fault!” Kept childlike by a series of child-unfriendly incidents, she guides the audience through a tall story, chaotically told, but carefully crafted.
Mission Bird is an aggressively distinctive creation. Cartoonishly costumed and bewigged, she bulldozes her way through her story with an edgy mixture of teenage tics, naivety and black humour. The narrative is structured by the repeated “I was like…then he was like,” slipping from jarring to invisible within minutes of the start. Haley McGee’s character has no pretensions to acting talent, struggling to find a convincingly deep voice for her suave male adversary. But she’s very much a performer, staging performance pieces and slam poetry as a way of explaining what’s going on. The first part of this play is a continual struggle to work out what it is that’s frightening her, who Irma is and what it is that she’s done.
The swamp subsides, gradually, into a murky sort of murder mystery. Mission Bird embarks on an utterly unplanned -as she takes pains to explain – escapade, which mainly involves her baffling, pestering and tormenting her chief suspect into submission.
McGee’s text has a lot of charm. Her images vary from the unlikely to baffling non-sequiturs, and her character’s voice is carefully judged; unworldly enough to make for plenty of inadvertent humour, but smart enough to outwit her suave adversary. Finding charm in its delivery is a bit harder, and its easy to see how a substantial subset of its audience could find Mission Bird infuriating and unlikeable. McGee’s detailed performance is fully realised, varied and brilliantly imagined, but its much easier to sympathise with her laundry-sniffing lyricism than her descent into nightmarish poltergeist.
The story’s progress into blood-soaked chaos isn’t the subtlest, but there’s still careful pacing, foreshadowing, and accelerating horror. There’s a kind of claustrophobia that comes from this crafting, though, with its two-and-a-half characters and endlessly repeated imagery, and the constant signposting means that there aren’t the kind of wildly unpredictable twists and turns you might hope for, either.
Being taken hostage by Mission Bird is never dull. As a character, she’s completely original and never loses the ability to disconcert, by a surprisingly probing turn of phrase, or a move of sudden daring. Her story doesn’t have quite the same power. But for its sheer, bloodsoaked mayhem, its hard to see how its climax could be bettered. After a few wobbles along the way, this vulnerable narrator grabs us by the throat and forces us to tremble, horrified, with her.