Venue: The Drama Barn
“Where do little birds go to?” dazzles, delights, and dismantles the romanticised version of the Kray Twins that our culture has concocted since their deaths. In only an hour, the play (written by Camilla Whitehall) pulls from musical, mime, and employs creative stage and sound direction to present a triumph of a production that is brimming with sadness and humour. Lydia Johnson’s performance as Lucy Fuller in this one-woman promenade piece is incredible, as she sings, mimes, and talks her way through the true story of an eighteen year old prostitute from 1960s London, taken by the Kray twins and locked in a flat with escaped axe-murderer Frank Mitchell. Every character comes to us through Lucy, and this is a challenge that Lydia Johnson rises to. While her monologues are impressively carried, the standout aspect of her performance is her singing voice which dazzles, enriching the performance without overshadowing it.
The staging of this play is also some of the most creative and effective that I have ever seen at the Drama Barn. With one wall in the Barn transformed into a nightclub, the next a dressing room for Lucy, another the dingy bar she tends in London, Johnson is free to skip and sing and march between the rooms in which our heroine lives her life. Lighting cues shift the scene as well as the tone, and as a pale white spotlight signals the arrival of the infamous Reggie Kray, the atmosphere gets tenser and tenser. Through these effects Drama Soc create a microcosm of East London in 1960s, capturing the glamourous and the grotesque and refusing to yield the romanticised view of this decade that permeates our culture.
Lydia Johnson’s singing voice dazzles, enriching the performance without overshadowing it.
It feels overly simplistic to refer to “Where do little birds go?” as a musical, given its use of a mixture of acapella, accompanied, and pre-recorded singing. Sometimes the audience is called to suspend their disbelief to indulge a more traditional performance, other times the singing enters the narrative itself . This compliments the Johnson’s range, as she moves from strong to vulnerable, bringing a resonant character to life with a sensitive performance.
DramaSoc’s production succeeds by mixing real with unreal. The iconic music of 1960s is heard alongside rumours about London’s most iconic criminals, woven in with the fictionalised story of a real women, largely lost to history. The music and the scenery help emphasise the historical context of the story, as the huge cultural wealth of this famous decade stands in contrast to the portrayal of one of its almost entirely forgotten victims. All the glamour of the Krays is cast aside, their absence from the play leaving the focus solely on one of their victims.
“Where do little birds go?” is a tremendous success, that works hard to compliment and enrich the performance of its only actor, creating a musical that is emotive and compelling without resorting to sentiment or spectacle.