As the title suggests, this play from The Backpack Ensemble is an adventure about finding a bird. Which seems simple enough. A young female bird-watcher heads to the Scottish Highlands to seek out the rare black-browed albatross. Eventually she finds it. Forty minutes, job done.
Except, of course, it’s not really about that at all. As the cast inform us at the beginning of their original piece, it was devised as part of their university degree and the whole notion of leaving the relative safety of education for the big wide world weighted heavily on their minds. Their memories collectively form the narrative that explores the idea of finding yourself, told through multimedia storytelling.
It is perhaps an obvious and clichéd theme, especially considering their company name. But that refers more to their theatrical style than it does the gap year stereotype. The cast of five saunters on to the stage carrying heavy backpacks that contain all the equipment they need: a projector, a screen, and other small props. A sixth cast member plays keyboard at the side that adds to the mood, predominantly variations on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells that oscillates between haunting and breezy. Together, it is minimalist, imaginative and wonderful.
Sam, our protagonist, ventures off alone. Her father died a couple of years prior leaving his bird watching project incomplete – her desire for closure brings her to the Highlands to finish what he started. Of course, it’s not about the end result but the journey of self-discovery, just as the piece itself is more about mood and feeling than story specifics. It’s like some wistful dream that leaves us pensive and lost in thought.
That’s because it’s just so charmingly told, the cast members collectively narrating the story. Simple yet imaginative tactics like silhouettes and rolling projections are evocative, the writing concise and well spoken. There is perhaps too much bustling onstage, the presentation requiring a little more finesse and polish. But the creativity of the ensemble brings the storytelling alive, making magic out of a backpack.
The Search for a Black-browed Albatross was performed at the New Diorama as part of Incoming Festival 2018. Click here for more details.