Scott Turnbull’s solo show Where Do All the Dead Pigeons Go? has nothing to do with pigeons – whatever their state of animation – and everything to do with people: with isolation and loneliness and the odd forms friendships take.
A low-tech, gently absurdist comedy delivered partly by way of overhead projector (remember them?), it tells the story of Darren Smith, the sole employee of Moon-base One, as he juggles doing a live broadcast to earth, handling a recalcitrant and malfunctioning robot and living up to the expectations of a greedy and hyper-critical employer.
The piece artfully blends high concept with deadpan Northern humour. Smith isn’t some sleek, trained professional astronaut: he’s a mildly depressed nerd who answered an ad in the paper because his girlfriend had dumped him and taken the dog. His robot companion, selected from a choice of programmes that included such icons as Clint Eastwood, is modelled after former Middlesbrough FC captain Tony Mowbray (a local footballing in-joke – Middlesbrough’s fanzine is called Fly Me to the Moon, after a quote by former manager Bruce Rioch, who once said if he had to go to the moon, Mowbray would be the one he’d take with him).
Working with director Ed Gaughan (who also co-wrote), Turnbull mines a lot of laughs and an impressive amount of pathos from this set up. The production is packed with small, pleasing touches, and the use of the projector, with Turnbull sketching much of the story as he goes, is particularly effective. He plays Smith as a sympathetic everyman, battered about by life but putting a brave face on it, and his unlikely friendship with the robot Tony gives the piece a surprisingly powerful emotional arc.
It’s undeniably slight, and how much you enjoy it will be to some extent dictated whether the humour is to your taste – it relies on juvenile jokes and sight gags more than I generally favour. But at a compact hour-long running time it knows not to outstay its welcome, and it’s surprisingly hard to resist its offbeat, retro charm.
Where Do All the Dead Pigeons Go? runs at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle until 19th July. More info here.