Meeting fellow bloggers at the Firebird‘s press night, I was so excited to hang out with theatre’s IT crowd. Surrounded by love and happiness, I knew I was at the right place at the right time. Totally unfazed towards the play’s agenda, I geared myself for another fun, dramatic adventure. These happy vibes were soon scorched to the flames of the Firebird.
Burning emotions at the stake, Firebird is a firecracker of a play. Blazing at Hampstead Downstairs last autumn, this production flares at the Trafalgar Studios. Like a campfire, we were squished around the empty awaiting space. Huddled within this small studio theatre, the intimacy and claustrophobic setting grounded Firebird before it even flapped its wings. Shoulder to shoulder, we watched the desolation of a young soul.
Tia’s mouthy attitude and confident swagger hide a vulnerable teenager whose tough start in life dangerously draws her to AJ. Older, good-looking and charismatic, AJ shows her a kindness she’s never known before. But this kindness comes at a price.
Being Phil Davies’ first full length play, Firebird is a quick rip of a sticky plaster, exposing the scab of bleeding sensitive issue. Focusing on his hometown of Rochdale, Davies researched the play’s touchy subject – child sexual exploitation. Reading many “pages of utter horror”, his classy writing gives a voice to a certain type of classless girl, who’s “caustic, confrontational and challenging to deal with”. Firebird silences those mouthy schoolgirls, with their big fronts, and exposes their vulnerable backstories.
Meeting bratty Tia (Callie Cooke) is like hanging out with your school bully or one of the ‘popular’ kids, just without the caterpillar eyebrows. Cooke plays Tia with lively infectious energy, diffusing vulnerability and loneliness. She’s a big tease, sh** stirrer and grass, knows exactly what buttons to press and sharpens her claws for a beloved catfight. Her choice of weapon: her mouth. Taunting her friend’s virginity, Tia stirs up the drama from her wheelchair. Shooting herself in the foot (not literally), Tia forgets she relies on Katie (Tahirah Sharif) to wheel her about. Katie’s explosion outburst leaves Tia high and dry, clutching her leg and drowning in champagne to cue a flashback for audience purposes.
Described as “older, good-looking and charismatic”, AJ (Phadlut Sharma) shows Tia what it feels like to be loved through buying her chips and onion bhajis. Sharma puffs the smoke out of his villainous and creates the tempting bad man swagger. His charm is addictive and drives the play into sharp corners. Being a loveable cheeky rogue, he is salted with danger yet Tia is hypnotised by curiosity and ping pongs banter across the kebab shop. Like a child catcher, he comes bearing gifts and she literally becomes a bloody mess.
Out of darkness, a bloodied bed falls from the ceiling and thumps onto the ground. Beaten and raped, Tia pounds the locked door and window. AJ tries to be her shining knight in armour, but he’s already wormed with suspicion and guilt. With horrific head whacking and sobbing, Cooke mentally kills Tia’s fourteen year old child inside her and presses the emergency button of frantic desperation.
Stinging the eyes with a talon of hope, embarrassed Katie invites Tia over for dinner and a sleepover. Overwhelmed by her kindness, Tia is a blubbering wreck at the invitation of a family home. In an eggshell, this girl was simply hatched from an unloved nest. Throughout the play, the friendship between these two young women established such amusing shades whilst creating very believable adolescents.
Reminiscing my school days, Firebird made me look upon my giggling fourteen year old self and compare to Tia’s broken down frame. Trying to imagine yourself battling the same experiences as young Tia, it’s a heart-breaking and makes you rethink on your happy-go-lucky days of pratting about in the school library.
Firebird was a deep dark, emotional, bloody terrific mess of a vulnerable mind. The writing nests within a young bleating heart whilst the cast pushes its message into a soaring flight path. Capturing true stories of innocence, vulnerability and desperation, Firebird plucks the fluffy feathers of chicks and lays them bare for us, the birdwatchers. This play has the ultimate pecking power for child sexual exploitation and squawks loud for those victims.
Book your tickets to see Firebird here. Ends 19 March 2016.
“The Children’s Society is incredibly proud to be involved with Firebird, a brave and important play that shines an authentic light on some of the truths we see every day.” Check out the charity here.
This review was first posted on Theatre South East here and has been edited to suit the writing style of HelloEmmaKay.