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Commentary on 'The Birds' by Emily Dix with Kiera Publicover and Chad Allen

Staged by Bygone Theatre with venue sponsor Hart House Theatre

The cast courtesy of Bygone Theatre's Facebook page.

Joe Szekeres

There has been a lot of theatre these last few weeks. My apologies and regrets for this tardy commentary of ‘The Birds’ as the production closed Sunday, December 4 at Hart House Theatre on the University of Toronto campus.

This was one production that intrigued me because I remember seeing the Hitchcock film version many, many times over the years. If it does air on television, I normally end up watching it again.

Emily Dix directed the production with an ‘unusual’ take on the subject. It’s important to refer to Daphne du Maurier’s story and give credit to it. That reminds me, I should read it again.

Dix says she worked with the cast, all of whom contributed directly to the creation of the script with chunks of dialogue, and something called a ‘slow burn’ she felt the story needed. This unusual term ‘slow burn’ did intrigue me, and I wanted to learn more. If ‘slow burn’ meant to build increasing tension in the moment, there were some challenges for me at the performance I attended.

At times, the dialogue and performances felt just a tad stilted and stiff for the stage. Pacing dragged. There were times when I felt as if I was watching a film rather than a play as the dialogue just sounded to me as if it could have been lifted right from Hitch’s film. I like this idea of staging ‘The Birds’ as a play as I believe it has possibilities. Perhaps this cast and director could look at the script once again with a keen ear and eye of a dramaturge.

Wes Babcock’s set extraordinarily stunning set paid minute attention to many detailed props throughout the entire cottage. It was the kind of place where I wouldn’t mind staying say for a night or two.

Acknowledgements to Emily Dix as well for assuming this responsibility of said props. Babcock’s muted shadings of light throughout the playing space at the pre-show setting eerily suggested something is not right and uneasy in the atmosphere.

Dix also worked on the costumes, and I liked what I saw. Appropriately fitting.

For some reason, I wondered if Dix might have decided to update the story to the twenty-first century. Anna Douglas’s costume looked as if could also be worn today but Oliver Georgiou’s costumes looked as if they were taken from the 1950s. I was a tad puzzled there in trying to decide if this was a modern adaptation or an homage to the Hitchcock film.

In her Director’s Programme Note, Dix had written: “How do you explain to someone outside of a crisis the things you do to survive it?”

And this is where I firmly believe work with a dramaturg could really nail the intent of the story. Instead of keeping it in the 50s, could it be set modern day with the Covid pandemic as the backdrop?

Earlier I explained there were moments when I felt that watching this play felt as if I was watching a film, the Hitchcock film and that really shouldn’t be occurring. Hopefully, the work with a dramaturge could refresh this script and build it to an intense play that could make it one to keep an eye on in the future.

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