Don’t Forget the Birds – Live Theatre

Don’t Forget the Birds

Live Theatre presents a brand new work, ‘don’t forget the birds’.  This is the true story of a mother and daughter separated by a prison sentence, and their journey back to each other, after the mother is released. Acted by real-life mother and daughter Cheryl and Abigail Byron, this revealing piece gives food for thought on the effects of prison on two women in a close knit family.

This is issues drama, but more than that, it is a very human story. A story about how people fall into trouble, and how they and their family have to deal with the consequences of their actions. It is a tale acted with the most authentic of performances, told with humour and colourful detail. Uniquely, the voices are those of the real characters themselves. This makes this a very accessible show, with a broad appeal which anyone can relate to.

Both mother and daughter give credible performances in retelling their own journey. I did think that Abigail was particularly good on stage though, funny, frank and engaging. She obviously adores her mother, and we very much want to hear her side of the story. Cheryl has changed while she was inside, less comfortable with physical contact, less confident about engaging with the real world. She has clearly been affected by her time in prison, but admits that if she hadn’t been sent down, she would probably have been dead, due to her escalating use of drink and drugs.

Don’t forget the birds – from jail bird to free bird

Writer Catrina McHugh has crafted a convincing piece from a torrent of memories and details, and director Laura Lindow gets the best from her brave cast. Good use of lighting and music to move the story along and create atmosphere. There is probably no more complex and nuanced bond than that between a mother and a daughter, and the exploration of this is at the heart of this theatrical nugget.
One hour straight through, an awful lot of ground is covered in this two handed piece. A few generational stories of growing up as a black person in the North East, faithless and abusive partners, drug and alcohol use and abuse, the fun and finally the fall from the precipice of a chaotic lifestyle.
We get glimpses of how tough life inside can be, Cheryl always keeping the worst of it from her daughter. The scene where Abigail details the ritual agony of the short prison visit, is particularly poignant. Cheryl is undoubtedly a larger than life character, who dominated her more studious and well behaved daughter. Her incarceration had a huge effect on Abigail but it also gives her the chance to grow up, to become independent and grow into her own skin. It almost feels like a role reversal when her mother is released and Abigail is now running the household and Cheryl is still asking for permission to do things from her, as she was conditioned to do in prison.

Don’t Forget the Birds – a comment on women in prison in the UK

This new piece of story telling comes from Open Clasp Theatre Company. It follows on from their critically-acclaimed prison drama Key Change devised after working with woman in the prison system at HMP Low Newton in Durham. At the end of Key Change four women walk towards the prison gates imagining what life will be like when they get out. Don’t forget the birds is the true story of what happened next for one of the original collaborators on Key Change, now released and fitting back into life outside.

The UK still has one of the highest rates of women’s imprisonment in Western Europe. Earlier this year, the Prison Reform Trust published What About Me?, a report into the impact on children who have experienced their mother being imprisoned. It found that it “has a potentially devastating impact on children, regardless of the age of the child and the length of sentence the mother receives.”

Don’t forget the birds allows us the opportunity to step into the shoes of a real-life mother and daughter and to give some thought to how we are dealing with these issues as a society, and whether how we deal with it now, is really the best solution.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.openclasp.org.uk

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