The Edinburgh-based MANIPULATE Festival’s mission is to introduce audiences to the pick of international visual theatre, puppetry and animation. It’s fitting, then, that Spanish multimedia outfit, Agrupación Señor Serrano, have chosen it for the Scottish premiere of Birdie, their meditation on migration.
Told in four acts, the performance is an intricate construction of live feed video, scale models, text, performance, sound and objects. All of this is used to present a perspective on the concepts of migration and immigration, seemingly opining that without either, mankind would not be as we know it.
Although, there is a loose narrative arc that runs through the performance, there’s not a story as we would traditionally conceive one. More, a series of perspectives and observations are presented, and the audience is invited to its own reflections and conclusions.
Throughout, avian creatures are used as an analogy or a commentary device. While this might seem obvious or, indeed, heavy-handed, it does prove to be effective. Footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in particular, is successful at creating a sense of eeriness and dread.
As contrasts of equality and inequality, privilege and poverty, are presented, the city of Melilla emerges as central to the performance. Often considered a triumph of multicultural living, it is, however, surrounded by purpose built fencing to curb ill-legal immigration. The most striking act of Birdie is the recreation of a photograph taken in Melilla of affluent golfers to the front, while in the background migrants sit atop the fence. The golf course itself dominates the stage set-up here, as hundreds of micro figures are projected via handheld cameras onto the large screen.
A real positive for Birdie is Dutch actress Simone Milsdochter’s captivating voice over, quickly establishing itself to be the production’s anchor. Roger Costa Vendrell’s impressive sound design and soundtrack are also genuine assets.
Unsurprisingly, with such an ambitious production, not every set piece is successful. And there is a creeping feeling that it is, at times, clever rather than genuinely compelling. However, one has to applaud a performance that allows its audience the headspace to form its own narrative. Birdie is a masterfully-produced, thoughtfully-conceived and enlightening experience.
Birdie is a timely meditation on the topic of migration – ★★★★ 4 stars from The Recs