Irish plays we see plenty of. Scottish plays less often. Welsh plays? Apart from the STC’s 2012 staging of Under Milk Wood (originally a radio script, of course), I can’t recall having seen any in Sydney in the last 20 years.
Enter Welsh-Australian director Jane Angharad, the driving force behind this Sydney premiere of Cardiff-born playwright Katherine Chandler’s poignant study of young women on the margins.
Bird is set in a coastal town and focused on Ava (played by Laura Wilson), a 15-year-old living in a residential care facility where she shares a room with 13-year-old Tash (Bella Ridgway). They have become de facto sisters.
But Ava is about to turn 16 and faces being moved out and into an uncertain future.
She hopes to live with her mother, Claire (Sarah Easterman), but there is much wariness and bad feeling to overcome. Claire seems to blame her daughter for whatever it was that led to her being placed into care.
In limbo, Ava hangs out at a playground where she meets a besotted young guy Dan (Marin Adler) and is groomed by Lee, a middle-aged loner not long out of prison.
Chandler relates the story in a series of taut, two-handed scenes, played in this Secret House production on an old-fashioned playground roundabout.
Angharad draws out very good performances from her cast in what is a sad-hearted but far from despairing drama. Together, Wilson and Ridgway are as chirpy as sparrows. Alone, they can look terribly vulnerable.
Easterman is completely convincing as the defensively hostile Claire, who, over the course of the story, becomes aware that there is something very wrong in her home.
Adler is grubbily charming as the teenaged boy ruefully aware that his every waking moment is “ruled by my dick”. James Gordon makes Lee into a gentle but worrisome presence.
The Welsh accent is a notoriously tricky one to maintain but dialect coach Amanda Stephens-Lee has equipped the cast to handle it. Wilson and Ridgway unadorned but lovely singing of the old Welsh hymn Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night) is a highlight of a tenderly staged and touching show.