Presented by Melissa Sheldon
Reviewed 23rd February 2017
Set in the confounds of a women’s prison, Jailbirds tells the story of a wealthy vegan animal activist who finds herself compelled to the company of six, somewhat intimidating, inmates. Written and directed by Melissa Sheldon, this hilarious and poignant take on Orange Is The New Black has a number of moral lessons about standing up for your rights, and, no matter the circumstances, never losing hope.
The cast, many of whom are Flinders Drama School graduates and all of whom were Wilderness School Old Scholars, were universally strong actors. For this reviewer, there were three stand out performances: drug-addict Eva Ridgehaven, played by Lilian Danvers, portrayed a devastating and gripping relationship with her mother, played commendably by Rachel Jones; Tessa Rolland, who spent the majority of her youth tooing and froing between orphanages and foster-homes, was played and often humourously by Amaya Diaz-Parrella; and Annabel Matheson gave a strong performance as the passionate charity-minded protagonist.
Unfortunately, for this reviewer, Jailbirds often felt disjointed: many scenes were too short, consequently diminishing the plays connectedness. The use of song-and-dance numbers, whilst ultimately intended to illustrate each character’s set of circumstances, did more to break up the piece. It became evident that many of the actors were finding it hard to maintain character after the interruption of whole-cast sing-a-longs. The cast’s vocal ability weakened their otherwise powerful performances, although Ella Moeck’s harmonies were a nice touch. However, Jailbirds would have ultimately been more effective as a straight piece of drama, although the audience did thoroughly enjoy the cast’s rendition of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, lead amusingly by prison-guard Mr Roberts, played by Pat McAuliffe.
The set was simple and effective: Sheldon explored the concept of rudimentary theatre by using drama-chairs, and having the cast move and manipulate the set pieces. It was the sound design that really let the performance down. Whilst spoken word was not amplified, the song-and-dance numbers had each member of the cast using hand-held microphones, resulting in balance issues and awkward hand-overs of microphones during scenes.
Despite the stilted plot and the sound issues, the audience had a great time. Jailbirds, with its strong performances and virtuous messages, is well worth a trip to the theatre.
Reviewed by Ben Francis
Rating out of 5: 3