I Am a Bird review: A bruising encounter in which bodies are torn asunder

Ross Gaynor’s tough monologue is set in the aftermath of a terrorist attack

I Am a Bird: ‘A play full of swift, involving ideas and deep personal feeling’

I Am a Bird: ‘A play full of swift, involving ideas and deep personal feeling’

 

Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

***

In one ghoulish moment in Ross Gaynor’s bruised but tender-hearted play for The Breadcrumb Trail, the speaker of his finely wrought monologue recalls the grisly aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in London.

An Irish nurse working in an emergency ward, played by Gaynor, he describes scooping up limbs from the hospital floor, now burned and charred like “blackened wings”. Even without the heightened sensitivity following recent attacks in London, Manchester, Baghdad and Tehran, the searing image of such carnage, so horribly real, would be difficult to shake. But Gaynor’s play, which is never shy on vivid detail, is an equally poetic meditation on how bodies can be torn asunder.

Standing at a butterfly microphone, in the denim, sleeveless T-shirt and bandana of Bruce Springsteen, Gaynor’s speaker begins with the fractured, first-hand account of a later hate crime, which tears through this story like shrapnel. Split, pointedly, into three parts, it begins as a parody of masculinity, opening with a karaoke cover of the Boss, before describing a Blanchardstown childhood, the fleeting promise of a football career, and the winding road to London instead.

Bordered by the tarnished glamour of Naomi Faughnan’s set – a make-up table, a quick-change curtain and an image that might best be described as Vetruvian Woman – Gaynor’s character is engaged with transformations both within and without. His next persona, a preening drag-act inspired by Donna Summer, is introduced as he describes moving to Brighton with his partner Alex, for some respite that only breeds abandon and tensions. “Have you ever sucked the life from someone?” he asks us. “Sucked their soul out from them?”

At such moments, the character is inclined to brood heavily over tortured thoughts, amplifying their portent – Derek Conaghy’s sound design, permanent and curling ominously, does much the same. But modest details are more affecting: the cruel casualness of taking someone for granted; the aftershock of terror; the theatricality of recriminations and remorse.

Indeed, many things are a performance in Gaynor’s play, directed as a kind of dark cabaret confession by Karl Shiels, in which everything from Irishness to gender is an evolving act. (As a consequence, perhaps, some unexpurgated karaoke renditions are over-indulged.) Referencing Plato’s myth on the splitting apart of humans into two halves, and the loss of a third sex, Gaynor transforms again into an androgynous self, ruminating, with believable uncertainty, on becoming transgender and ever becoming whole.

Although he deplores the hatred and extremism of violent action, of all those bodies ripped apart, this torment of identity has him lurch towards extreme self-destruction, a tragedy more inclined to shock than move. But it is, nonetheless, a play full of swift, involving ideas and deep personal feeling, describing how both societies and individuals might come together or fall apart.

Runs until Jun 17