June 11, 2014

Outstanding Capsis makes Little Bird fly

Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Music Theatre

Little Bird
by Nicki Bloom
Songs and Music by Cameron Goodall and Quentin Grant
State Theatre Company, in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre
Her Majesty’s Theatre.
June 10. Tickets $ 30 – $ 67
Bookings : BASS 131 246 or
Duration 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Until June 22.

“Little Bird, we’ll love you, whoever you are.” It is the declaration of unconditional love all parents make for their children . But in Nicki Bloom’s intriguingly woven musical story – part changeling ballad, part cautionary tale, part dream play – nothing is quite as it seems, and no-one is quite who they think they are.

Little Bird, commissioned by Adelaide Cabaret Festival director Kate Ceberano specifically to feature the singular (and multiple) talents of performer Paul Capsis, marks another new and creative direction for State Theatre – and it is an undoubted festival highlight.

Director Geordie Brookman has taken Bloom’s spare, crisply poetic text and, with an excellent creative team, produced a work which is pleasing to both eye and ear.

Designer Geoff Cobham, using a simple box set, then an open stage, sculpts the action with soft white spotlights and carefully judged effects – a forest of thin, fairytale trees rises out of nowhere, a miniature house beckons with Tiffany glass colours, and a series of descending red-lit frames signify an urban skyline. His lighting design associate, Chris Petrides provides striking, textured projections and Ailsa Paterson’s shape-shifting costumes, in black, silver and white, maintain the boldly monochrome effect.

The incidental music by Quentin Grant is some of his best stage composition to date. His gently trickling piano lines, echoes of Michael Nyman and Philip Glass perhaps, are aptly augmented by Belinda Gehlert’s distinctive violin, accompanied by Dylan Woolcock on guitar and Harley Gray and Jonathan Sickerdick on bass and percussion.

Co-written by Grant and Cameron Goodall, the nine songs which feature throughout are – in the case of the opening Lullaby and For So Long- delectably melodic; splendidly match Bloom’s folk ballad lyrics, as in The Girl Said to the Wind; and, when needed, deliver Nick Cave heft – like show-stopper, The Woodcutter Song.

But it is the embodiment of all these elements in Paul Capsis’s outstanding performance which makes Little Bird fly. From the moment his narrative begins, Capsis commands the stage, building the strangeness of the story, inhabiting its familiar emotion.

His mercurial capacity in Lullaby to sing the father, then the mother, and later the child, is key to the theme of Little Bird’s search for identity. When he takes a wife, Capsis enacts the courtship, when Little Bird lives as a woman with Rocky, the axe-wielding, cross-dressing woodcutter, Capsis unfurls his mass of curls and struts the street.

His extravagance is part of his legend, but here it is Capsis’s restraint and precision, matching the lyric understatement of Nicki Bloom’s engaging, sometimes elusive text, that makes Little Bird the Faberge egg it is.

Murray Bramwell

“Outstanding Capsis makes Little Bird fly”, The Australian, June 12, 2014, p.15.

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