Review: Scenes for Survival - Birdie's Dilemma, National Theatre of Scotland

With 3 broadcasts a week, the National Theatre of Scotland are producing new works at a rapid and impressive rate. It’s a delight to see our national theatre deliver so accessibly to entertain the masses of Scotland and more. Written by Apphia Campbell, Birdie’s Dilemma is the latest digital work from the Scenes for Survival collection.

After working in a major retail store for her entire life, Birdie retires and gets nothing but a wooden plaque. No pension, no recognition, nothing. Therefore, it’s no surprise that she’s a little outraged. After battling with dark thoughts and pyromaniac impulses throughout her life, she now struggles to fight her long-supressed actions and devises a plan to take revenge and destroy the store.

Opening in a bare flat, accompanied by solemn and ominous vocal music, we are welcomed into a depressing yet vulnerable world. Then enters a glamourous Birdie, slightly resembling a flight attendant, and the monologue begins.

Mirren Wilson – A sketch inspired by the piece

Apphia Campbell’s text is the real strength in this piece. It’s rhythmic, intriguing and full of twists and turns. Retail workers are usually unsung everyday heroes and it’s a true thrill to see a complex role for such a worker – funnily enough they’re also real people with their own sets of problems. The character of Birdie is fully explored very quickly, strikingly odd whilst equally mundane, but could easily have her own one-woman show in the future.

Director, Natalie Ibu, uses a variety of shots to expand on moments of detail, providing a visual aid to Birdie’s intrusive thoughts. Playing with Birdie’s proximity to the camera or mystifying images of hands and matches with visual effects; the piece is stylistic and there’s always something interesting to look at. It does all feel slightly amateur but it’s certainly not easy to film under lockdown conditions, so credit has to be given for experimenting with the tools and methods available.

Tracy Wiles gives a very theatrical performances as Birdie, which on screen, is a little too much. Unfortunately, the breathiness and stylised anger takes away from the sincerity of the emotion and it’s a struggle to buy into the seriousness of the story. However, vocally Wiles is very expressive, even if she lacks rawness.

Overall, Birdie’s Dilemma ultimately lacks in tone and atmosphere. Whilst individually each element seems well thought out and intricate, it just doesn’t pack a punch when it all comes together. Ending on a bit of an evil-villain styled cliff-hanger, we’re not really sure if Birdie battles her demons. But one thing is for sure – “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Birdie’s Dilemma is streaming on BBC Scotland’s iPlayer. For more information, see the National Theatre of Scotland’s website.