Theatre review: When The Birds Come, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh

After her success at last year's Fringe, Tallulah Brown returns with her new play, When The Birds Come. Picture: Alex Brenner
After her success at last year's Fringe, Tallulah Brown returns with her new play, When The Birds Come. Picture: Alex Brenner
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It’s the end of winter in rural Alaska and the ice is melting more than it should.

When The Birds Come, Underbelly - Cowgate, Edinburgh * * * *

The river is edging closer to the Yupik village where Margaret and Stanley are growing up, and “city people” are coming with clipboards about talking about “re-loc-ation”. But 14-year-old Margaret thinks she has a solution. The return of the migratory birds in the spring will signal the moment to put her plan in motion.

Tallulah Brown, whose play Songlines was acclaimed at last year’s Fringe, returns with another two-hander, this time set in a land of snow and forest at the sharp end of climate change. Eight-year-old Stanley’s connection with the landscape is simple and instinctive, while teenage Margaret is dreaming of Anchorage, of central heating, Snapchat and Starbucks.

Brown captures brilliantly, as she did in Songlines, the essence of adolescence, the danger of believing you know more than you actually do. Phoebe Vigor is superb as the bossy older sister, exasperated by her brother but fiercely protective of him in equal measure, while Zak Douglas gives a finely tuned performance as Stanley, poised between ebullience and vulnerability.

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Isabella Van Braekel’s minimal set, complemented by Roly Witherow’s soundscape, evokes a place of desolate beauty which is both threatened and threatening: make a mistake here and you won’t last long. Yet the skills it takes to survive here remind us of what we lose by embracing city life.

Flash forward ten years and the environmental harbingers intensify. But this play is not a polemic about climate change. It is merely the backdrop for a story about family, connection to the land, and the importance of stories – and the danger of believing in the wrong one.

Until 25 August

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