Horse+Bamboo, Jailbird

Review in Issue 18-3 | Autumn 2006

Michael Davitt was an Irishman who settled in Haslingden in the late 1800s. His experiences of eviction in Ireland at the hands of unscrupulous land owners and employment as a young boy in the cotton mills radicalised him and he was imprisoned for his subsequent republican activities. Horse + Bamboo were contacted and asked if they would produce a show based on his life for the Exile and Exiles Festival. Jailbird is the result.

Horse + Bamboo use full masks, puppets and minimal dialogue to tell stories with mythic overtones. This one started with the adult Michael in jail looking back at his life. The jail wall turned on the spot propelling us outside and the show then chronicled key parts of his life. Each scene was presented very simply with some very well judged pieces of theatricality to ensure they didn't merely illustrate the events but drew you in to what was happening. They even managed to breathe some excitement into that hoary old favourite – the factory scene where people hold mill wheels and machine cogs and twirl them round. The use of under-lighting and a big piece of white cloth turned it into an expressionist nightmare.

An important part of the performance was the music. The musical director Chris Davies, working with a five-piece band, provided a constant soundtrack of Irish music, sound effects and song. The show featured a mixture of professional performers and students at Haslingden High School. It was a seamless mix of abilities which, due to intelligent and sensitive direction, never detracted from the content of the show. Jailbird was presented in one of those huge cavernous school halls that make you feel eleven years old the minute you enter. Not an ideal situation in which to create an atmospheric performance but they overcame these potential pitfalls with considerable theatrical panache.

Presenting Artists

Haslingden High School

Date Seen
  1. Mar 2006

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-3
p. 30