So when you were last at the doctors and you were asked the question how many units a week do you drink what did you say ? were you truthful ? This is not the first of several potentially tricky questions throughout the play Thirsty (performed by The Paper Birds theatre company) that I went to see last night in which our individual, societal, stereotypical and gender attitudes to alcohol are explored.
The stage is set up sparsely with 3 toilet cubicles on a checkerboard tiled floor edged by different sized glasses and as the lights dim droplets of water can be heard. This quiet is then shattered as Kylie and Jemma erupt into a Hen party scene and dive straight into the audience with camera snapping. You are immediately catapulted into numerous situations that you have either been in or seen and the discomfort that many will feel when confronted by drunken people. Throughout the next hour or so Kylie and Jemma weave storylines and anecdotes both personal and those reported to them as they question and query the place of drink in Britain today.
In researching the back story to the play a blog, questionnaire and drunken hotline had been established to capture stories about drinking, effectively asking the question why do we drink ? why is it an important part in many of our lives ? Snippets of these confessions bleep out and others are retold as graffiti on the toilet walls which get weaved in and out of Kylie and Jemma’s tales of their own lives and relationship to alcohol and the detailed telling of the story of “she” a young student who has moved from a small village to go to university in a new city.
A word here must go to Shane who appears in the 3rd cubicle and interacts with the story through music, photography and the odd one liner. His interjections add to and break up the story in a humorous way and reminded me very much of a mate we all have who you want along on a night out. I loved the scene where “she” enters a pub and buys her first drink and Shane tries to reflect the mood of what that first drink can make you feel like through music. As music is the soundtrack to many of our experiences with alcohol I found this a clever and poignant moment.
Kylie and Jemma’s physicality on the stage is also captivating, they absolutely fill the stage with their movement and personality as the weaving stories continue. The story of “she” was questioning and uncompromising and as it developed I really felt a sense of dread and foreboding developing however this was not necessarily shared by the rest of the audience, there was much laughter at the behaviour of “she” at which I found myself thinking is this nervous laughter, is it funny, is it tragic, were people being reminded of their own behaviour and finding it funny. The performance was at stage@leeds at the university and the majority of the audience appeared to be students – could they see the reflections of their own behaviour in the the exploits of “she” and how did this make them feel?
The play very much focuses on female attitudes to drinking but of course by doing so it cannot help to explore men’s reactions to women who drink and ask us serious questions of our own attitudes and behaviour. This might sound as though the play is preachy or lecturing and one of the many clever things about the performance is that it never strays into this territory it simply asks questions and there is much genuine humour throughout the performance.
Throughout the play a camera is used to snap various pictures which at the end are projected up onto the cubicle doors, a slick method of again questioning the change that has taken place in society in recent years of the apparent need to document all aspects of everything that happens and post it somewhere as though we are all living in the Truman show. The nature of what is personal and what is shared loomed large.
I firmly believe that the best art should hold up a mirror to yourself and your attitudes and should ask difficult questions. Thirsty does this brilliantly. The Paper Birds return to perform this at The Carriageworks on the 20th and 21st of March and I would urge you to go along, it will after all cost less than a round of drinks.