Following a successful tour, and Edinburgh Fringe run of previous production, Artificial, Split Note Theatre return with a chilling new piece of drama written and directed by Luke Culloty. Jailbirds takes a fairly traditional story, and flips it on its head with a new and modern twist.
Examining power and control, this well paced play is set in the bowels of a deep underground prison, known as ‘The Box’. Heath, a dangerous prisoner is introduced to Moira who, working alongside Bheur (Kirsty Marie Terry) will be spending five days locked up with this serial killer to perform some kind of assessment. Through a series of twists and turns we start to question who is really being tested, and just who is in control of the situation.
Culloty’s writing is vividly descriptive, each line seems to tease the audience, tantalising them with what could be coming next. Indeed, it’s only in the final scenes that we really get to the crux of what’s happening, and even then, much is left unsaid. The plot is futuristic in style, and without giving away any spoilers it’s necessary for the audience to think outside the box somewhat, venturing slightly away from the psychological thriller that Jailbirds first appears to be.
It’s a mainly female cast, with the majority of the interaction between Moira (Stella Richt) and Heath, who is described as rich, white and a genius with a dark family past. A sadistic authoritarian figure in the form of Officer Oml (Evangelina Burton) strikes a frightening tone, while Guard Piskon looks on. Luke Culloty also makes several appearances, guiding the players in different directions, manipulating our perceptions of them.
The cast are young and at the beginning of their careers, and sometimes their inexperience shows, too often they lack projection or sincerity making some of the dialogue a struggle. The fight scenes too, essential to any prison setting, need work to create the shocking effect they are trying to attain. That said, Molly Jones stands out in the role of Heath, giving this serial killer just the right amount of cool malice. Despite having little in the way of lines, Fred Woodley Evans as Guard Piskon manages to convey a wealth of emotions through facial expressions.
There’s an element of movement woven in to the narrative, it works well alongside the mix of music – modern giving way to Vivaldi. It is Culloty’s writing which emerges triumphant, thoughtfully layered to create a twisting narrative, even if it is a little cryptic at times.
Having been confined to ‘The Box’, Heath has developed an acute sense of smell, and despite needing some work on the performance aspect, Jailbirds has the scent of success. With further development there is a huge amount of potential for this gripping new play.