Reviews DublinNationalReviews Published 9 June 2017

Review: I Am a Bird Now at the Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

This bird is stuck in its nest: Ross Gaynor’s eclectic new one-man drama at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs doesn’t quite deliver, says Chris McCormack.

Chris McCormack
I Am a Bird Now, Theatre Upstairs, Dublin. Photo: Paul Livingstone.

I Am a Bird Now, Theatre Upstairs, Dublin. Photo: Paul Livingstone.

It’s dangerous thing, standing close to a microphone. Raise an eyebrow and people could take you for a comedian. Take a deep breath, they’ll expect a serious balladeer. Ross Gaynor, performing his new monologue I Am a Bird Now, is a bit of both. Can this Breadcrumb Trail production, made in association with Theatre Upstairs, afford the ambiguity? This is a freighted journey towards nothing less than another gender.

Gaynor’s drama, mapped by Caitriona Daly’s dramaturgy, sees one soul go through three selves, each channelling a well-known singer. First we have Bruce, gushing forth with Springsteen’s The River. Standing at the mic with macho swagger, he describes growing up from promising footballer in Dublin to a proud gay nurse in London. But after seeing acts of terrorism (the 2005 bombings) up close, he moves with his boyfriend to Brighton.

Donna, then, has the welcome spark of Summer’s I Love You. Speaking from a dressing table, she stresses that she “really tried to be a man”. Her romantic relationship falls apart after a promiscuous awakening. Gaynor, however, seems to link such sabotage to gender confusion.

From self-destruction to re-construction: the last figure, Antony (as in “and the Johnsons”), is played solemnly, a transgender woman forbidden from undergoing reassignment surgery. Then comes a galling scene with a mirror, a knife and an iron.

If Karl Shiels’s production is tonally confused, it’s because Gaynor’s play is hard to pin down. It ranges eclectically from cabaret crooning to whispered testimony. Naomi Faughnan’s surrealist set is ambitious, containing a Vitruvian Man and a changing curtain, but distracting netting and foil make the action difficult to locate. The constant beams from Eoin Byrne’s disco lighting are also hard to fathom.

It’s unfortunate because material like this is rarely articulated on stage (in Irish theatre anyway, though a play about transgender people who are not brutalised is long overdue). As Gaynor impressively sings Antony and the Johnson’s Hope There’s Someone, it seems like a moment for his character to transcend. But that song’s coda is possibly inimitable and, not hitting the mark, this monologue doesn’t deliver the regeneration it preaches. This bird is stuck in its nest.

I Am a Bird Now is at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs until June 17th. For more details, click here.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: I Am a Bird Now at the Theatre Upstairs, Dublin Show Info


Produced by The Breadcrumb Trail, in association with Theatre Upstairs

Directed by Karl Shiels

Written by Ross Gaynor

Cast includes Ross Gaynor

Original Music June 6 - June 17

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