The Early Bird


Project Arts Centre, Dublin Jun 8-26 8.15pm €20/€16 01-8819613

There’s an awful lot of blame spinning around Leo Butler’s intense and unsettling drama from 2006, in which two parents speak to us – and sometimes each other – about their missing child.

In their elliptical conversation, full of sharp turns in delivery and sudden pivots in emotion, everything from junk food and parental temper to marital infidelity and bug-eyed monsters are named as possible culprits. But the audience’s suspicion may be fixed firmly on the speakers.

The production – from Donnacadh O’Briain’s Natural Shocks Theatre – turns the screws tighter by casting a real-life couple (Catherine Cusack and Alex Palmer) and then confining them to a Perspex box around which the audience cluster.

Although Early Birds courses with nightmarish scenarios, unanswered questions and an uneasy sense of public voyeurism surrounding personal horrors, it’s worth noting that Butler wrote it long before the media scrutiny of such headline- grabbing missing children cases as Madeleine McCann.

Intended as a moral conundrum rather than an issue drama, with words flavoured by Beckett, it may have since become difficult to disentangle from less abstract horror stories.

Already well-received in London, where this production began, Early Birdsisn’t afraid to jab a finger in an exposed nerve.

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