Against the backdrop of three toilets (one containing the sound man), Kinky Kylie and Juicy Jemma are having a whale of a time. Adorned with L plates and bridal veils, they are letting their hair down on a hen night. Mucking around, flirting, shouting, taking photos and… drinking.
Thirsty is The Paper Birds’ tribute to alcohol. They’ve gathered material about couples or housewives who like to relax with a glass of wine, but reluctantly return to the story of a binge-drinking young woman. She’s 16, 18, 21, 25, they say, drawing attention to the devices of theatre while using them fluently.
The story of her night out obviously has various endings, such as a cab ride back home, a take-away or waiting for a bus. But it doesn’t take much imagination to think of worse ones for a young woman who has just split up with her boyfriend and is a bit lost at university. This gentle, undefined menace provides an undercurrent throughout the show. And it invites the audience to fill in the gaps with their own experience.
Avoiding too linear a narrative, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh weave in the first-person story of their own friendship. Slightly pointless voicemails left drunk on a Friday in a boring Camden club mean that a whole chapter of their life, love, work and friendship is drowned in repetitive beats.
The Paper Birds are expert theatre-makers. They have their own trademarks, unearthing young women’s stories on hard-hitting themes through verbatim material and subtle movement. On the one hand, parts like the wafting piano music may now be a bit clichéd. On the other hand, they have rightly developed their own style and signature tune. There are plenty more topics to which it could be applied.
Priceless moments include their rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. They sing with incredible welly, and swoon in tandem. Arguably, the show only hints at the longer-term aspects of alcoholism (sweats, shakes, cirrhosis, incontinence, jaundice, violence, anyone?). However, this makes for a more accessible piece, which doesn’t preach, but is poised between laughing and crying.