A tale of wonder, Fledgling is raw and exquisite theater

Young
KXT, Potts Point,until March 12
★★★½

Young is the final show of Pandemonium, a two-week mini-festival of new works at KXT, produced by Panimo Creatives. Written and directed by Lily Hayman, it is an adaptation of Joshua Lobb The flight of birds, a short story novel. It’s a raw yet exquisite piece of theater that explores the limits of language and how wisdom and trauma persist across generations.

Young is a tender portrait of a relationship between father and daughter, and between man and nature, decoded through a series of interactions with birds. A kookaburra slides leftover bacon. The pet canary escapes from its cage. A lyrebird tells stories of past crimes.

The production makes effective use of the most basic sound, lighting and props.Credit:Claire Hawkley

Then a child makes the connection between the chickens in the garden and the white meat on his plate, a woman is dying of cancer and a man is mired in statistics on the decline of bird populations. It may sound dark, but this piece is ultimately about wonder, not darkness.

A solid ensemble cast and bold direction make it work. The four actors move from classic Australian family vignettes to otherworldly evocations of the natural world with an eerie but compelling ease. One minute they’re jostling for the canary, and the next they’re a nest of beings – birds, humans, whatever – building an intricate song from taps and clicks.

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The production makes powerful use of sound and lighting (Sammy Reid) alongside physical theatre. Against the backdrop of birdsong and disembodied voices, the cast transforms the most basic props – a mask, a rope, a chair – into powerful sets. Moments like Michael Ho’s swirling evocation of a whisper and the dramatic final appearance of the lyrebird are magical.

Lily Hayman’s first play is an intriguing and thought-provoking new work, decidedly non-linear, insisting that its audience simultaneously holds contrasting ideas, characters and images in their minds. Packing complex ideas (and an entire novel) into a tight 50 minutes means there’s plenty left over, but, like a finely crafted spare verse, those gaps are where the show really finds its power.

The gaps are where the audience can listen, see the connections, and be part of the meaning-making process. The dense tangle continues to focus in my mind, long after the lights have come on.

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