Julian Crouch & Saskia Lane - Birdheart

Julian Crouch & Saskia Lane: Birdheart

Julian Crouch & Saskia Lane - BirdheartSometimes, simple is best. Julian Crouch, however, is not the first name that comes to mind when considering simplicity in the theatre. From the bawdy excess of his Shockheaded Peter collaboration with those dank, camp darlings of underground cabaret, The Tiger Lillies, to the playful opulence of his designs for the Metropolitan Opera, the Brooklyn based director/designer/puppeteer seems comfortable inhabiting a certain sumptuous excess.

There is no surfeit of any kind, however, with Birdheart. Along with collaborator Saskia Lane, Crouch’s offering to this year’s Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival is a compelling lesson in economy and invention.

An egg sits in a tray of sand atop a simple wooden table. With no pretence towards blackout invisibility, the casually dressed Crouch and Lane step forward and engage directly with the invention springing from their hands. It is likely no mistake that the scene looks as commonplace as a sandpit in any nursery. What follows arises from a rehearsal workshop exercise in which participants are invited to find a common language from minimal materials – commonly a sheet of paper – the focus is on pure invention – the kind of invention that we like to assume is a natural component of childhood that we are subsequently condemned to spend the rest of our lives referring back to in wonder.

A crumpled sheet of brown paper is teased from the egg and becomes a sail. Once upon the shore the sail becomes a figure. With delicacy and poise belying the prosaic raw materials, fleeting scenarios emerge and fold into one another. There is no real narrative to follow, only our empathic reaction to the curious and lonely movements of this fleeting creature, scrabbling in the sand.

Because there is no blackout providing the illusion of unaided autonomy, Lane and Crouch are free to interact in plain sight with their invention, entering often into a richly nuanced choreography, never more sensitively executed than when Lane tries to assist the suddenly aged – though stubborn – creature in pouring tea from a teapot into two cups at a table set for two. The eloquence of this and other moments seem all the more remarkable given that Lane’s profile is predominantly as a musician. Here she shows herself as a puppeteer of exceptional sensitivity and composure.

Crouch has said of the work – a VisionIntoArt / National Sawdust commission – that it asserts the case that we are nothing unless we make something. Birdheart is a quietly powerful, utterly compelling articulation in miniature of the idea that the whole of life can be conjured from sand, sticks, paper, and the will to imagine.

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About Michael Begg

Michael Begg is a musician and sound artist based in East Lothian, Scotland, from where he runs his label, Omnempathy, and studio, Captains Quarters. He collaborates regularly on theatre sound design, most notably in an ongoing relationship with with Moscow’s blackSKYwhite, and writes regularly on sound and theatre. This written work has appeared in The Scotsman, The Quietus, Paraphilia, Sound On Sound, Adverse Effect, and in translation for the Polish Soundscape Institute.