The layered dialogue and mesmerising central performance in Luke Culloty’s Jailbirds is weighed down by a disjointed pace, unnecessary staging decisions and a disappointing ending.
As audiences walk into the Etcetera, Culloty’s ensemble are already onstage – seemingly going through their pre-performance rituals. The writer/director weaves around the performers, giving them last minute pointers as a stage manager would. As Jailbirds progresses, heightened moments of the narrative will be punctuated with his presence – but it is unclear as to why exactly. Perhaps such staging decisions are there to highlight the artifice of theatre, or to call attention to the voyeuristic but ultimately distant role of the audience. In either case, such goals don’t quite match the tone of the play (which in many senses seems hyper-naturalist in style.)
Culloty does well in sensing when a scene should change, but all momentum garnered beforehand is stunted by transitions that fail to achieve their intended symbolism.
Molly Jones is mesmerising as serial killer Heath. Culloty writes a morbid reverie into Heath which is brought to life by Jones’s charisma and menace. She imbues the murderess with an unpredictability that makes watching her dominate the Etcetera Theatre space utterly captivating. One cannot help but draw comparisons between Heath and Hannibal Lecter, especially as she begins to interact with Stella Richt’s Moira. It’s clear that Moira has been placed in Heath’s cell for a five day trial, but the story becomes harder to decipher as Bheur (Kristy Terry) comes into play.
The problem with having such a strong central character, played with as much mettle as Molly, is that those sharing a scene with her must work that much harder to hold their own. Fred Woodley Evans combines genuine fear with anger as Piskon, Heath’s prison guard. Watching his reactions to Heath alternating between threatening and flirting with him gives us a sense of the complex dynamic upheld between the two characters. Moira’s role however, is far more enigmatic. Set up as Heath’s foil, Richt struggles to bring depth to Moira and it is not clear as to whether this is due to how her character is written, Stella’s performance or both. What one assumes is meant to be stoicism comes across as a little emotionless, and Moira’s vulnerability translates more as mousiness. She doesn’t quite convince as a formidable counterpart to Heath.
Eva Burton brings a frenetic quality to Office Oml, especially as she begins to lose control of the trial, but it is hard to fully invest in her character. Moreover, as with the others, she ultimately suffers from being overwhelmed by the amount that’s happening narratively towards the end of the play. Indeed, in the denouement of Jailbirds, the pace becomes rushed and the motivations of characters involved become unconvincing. The strength of Culloty’s writing is evident in scenes with just two or three people, and as all the characters are brought together, the story becomes disjointed. The final revelation in Jailbirds moves it very markedly out of Silence of The Lambs territory and into something else entirely – that just doesn’t quite make sense for me.
In conclusion, Luke Culloty is a promising writer with a real knack for naturalistic dialogue. However, he spreads the story of Jailbirds too thinly at times – by throwing in elements that haze rather than compliment, and detract from the depth that Jailbirds could have otherwise achieved.