Two Little Dickie Birds, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

You know those people who never stop talking, ever? The sort that will strike up a conversation with people at bus stops, in the supermarket or talk to themselves constantly? They thrive in customer service. They make brilliant pub landladies. They’re comforting if they’re your granddad. But as a solo performance character who encounters soap opera-esque levels of misfortune and has a story told through a terribly structured, stereotypical script? Being in their continuously monologuing presence for ninety minutes is excruciating.

Every second of Pauline’s journey of self-discovery from her pub in Oldham to Brazil in Two Little Dickie Birds is fraught with either ridiculous catastrophe or mundane daily life. The sappy, middle-aged blonde who is an everywoman completely lacks unique personality. She perpetually narrates the most minor of details as if the audience were mentally incapacitated and unable to work out any conclusions themselves. Dodgy dates, pub regulars, a fire, the death of a loved one and fights with technology are a mix of boring and absurd topics she covers. Imagine the most boring episode of Eastenders or Coronation Street performed by one person and you’ll be close to this play and its execution.

The script is a monotonous drip feed of linear information with no sense of pace or emphasis of key moments. She speaks to invisible characters, yet directly to the audience who are outside of her immediate reality. The three writers, David Allen, Jonathan Clay and Mandy Hester, seem to have no understanding of how solo performances are meant to work, and the fact that not one but THREE writers thought this script was fit to put in front of an audience is most worrying. The style and structure they employ is more suitable to children’s storytelling – it has no literary finesse, surprise, suspense or humour – despite being marketed as a comedy. The similarly advertised poignancy means a happy ending, but with a lack of empathy. This is the sort of material more appropriate to am dram than professional stages.

Performed in a consistent, even tone with no variation and with a voice that could strip wallpaper (also unvarying), the actor also appears to lack clear direction. Jeffrey Longmore seems to have no sense of a narrative arc, character journey or how to add light and shade to her delivery. Extraordinarily long pauses between scenes also show an incapability of handling transitions, as these last well beyond moving set and props around. There is also the bafflingly costumed stagehand who occasionally interacts with the audience, but not with Pauline.

Dave Benson’s set redeems the production somewhat. It’s detailed, grounded in reality and offers visual variation that the other production elements lack. Projections augment physical build, but these are unnecessary and some occasional CGI animation is downright awful.

Two Little Dickie Birds could snapshot Northern working class life, but the lack of compelling story and sense of how to tell it is the script’s downfall. A poor performance and direction exacerbate the poor text, making this production on par with the hobbyists at the village hall who speak volumes of little substance.

Two Little Dickie Birds runs through 30 July.

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