Others. Paper Birds Theatre Company at the Stephen Joseph theatre Scarborough. 30-03-11

Paper Birds Theatre Company’s show, Others, is a sharp, moving and funny look at an idea which is both very modern and also as old as the hills. How do we know, how can we know other people? How do we recognise and see beyond our assumptions and prejudices? How do we deal with difference? In today’s society we are bombarded with information and images of people who we do not know. They may be celebrities, they may be people on a list of several hundred facebook friends, or people who are in the news, momentarily or permanently. Opinions are easy to form and once set in place they are difficult, even impossible to challenge. The internet makes it easier than ever before to share these opinions and there are thousands of comment streams after articles and videos everywhere expressing mindless admiration or vitriol in equal measure. We are brought face to face with people who are nothing like us, people who don’t share our mindset. Opinions spread like wildfire and can be shared within seconds without any thought for their truth or reasonableness. In Others Paper Birds look at how this process works and examine it in a way that could only be done in the theatre.

The show was devised in 2009 and has been changing and developing ever since. The verbatim content is based on email correspondence with two women, a woman who is in prison for a violent attack, a well off Iranian woman, and an attempted correspondence with a celebrity (Heather Mills) who fittingly didn’t respond. “Her” contribution is seen through the filter of television.. All three of the women stand for groups who face prejudice, misunderstanding and intolerance in different ways. As we learn more about them, following the same process that the three actors did during the devising process, our own thoughts and reactions are questioned and challenged. The show is not just about the three women. It is also about the cast and the audience. A powerful idea.

Others is short, punchy and cleverly performed by Kylie Walsh, Jemma Mc Donnell and Shani Erez. They use movement and gesture throughout, alongside the verbatim words of the three women to unfold their stories, working together at a fast pace. There are some telling moments, like the repetitive gesture of violence and pain which illustrates over and over again the final act which led to a long prison sentence. We hear the details of the attack only once, but the constant reminder afterwards through the gesture reminds us that the pain of that moment never goes away. It isn’t perfect. the opening didn’t quite work for me, and there are moments when the performances are not quite sharp enough, but this is a very challenging way of working and hard to pull off. I particularly liked Shani Erez. She has real stage presence and a flair for comedy.

I shall be thinking about the ideas behind this show for a long time. We are all others, and none of us can ever completely know someone else; understanding and accepting this is part of being human. Difference is good and life affirming and we need to accept it.

The performances are backed up by some atmospheric music from Shane Durrant and there are some haunting visual images, particularly when a high pile of thin emails is wafted delicately down onto the stage by a large fan.

This is a very interesting, thought provoking show, and one which is truly theatrical. In the Q and A session afterwards Jemma Walsh said that they have lost their funding after the next project in the current round of cuts. This is an enormous shame. Work like this deserves the time and space to be allowed to grow and develop. I wish them all the luck in the world.

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