Fledgling is the final show of Pandemonium, a two week mini-festival of new work at KXT, produced by Panimo Creatives. Written and directed by Lily Hayman, it is an adaptation of Joshua Lobb’s The Flight of Birds, a novel in short stories. It is a raw but exquisite piece of theatre-making that explores the limits of language and how both wisdom and trauma persist across generations.
Fledgling is a tender portrait of a relationship between father and daughter, and between humans and nature, decoded through a series of interactions with birds. A kookaburra swipes the leftover bacon. The pet canary escapes its cage. A lyrebird tells tales of past crimes.
Then a child makes the connection between the chickens in the garden and the white meat on her plate, a woman lies dying of cancer and a man becomes mired in statistics of declining bird populations. That might sound grim but this play is ultimately about wonder, not darkness.
A strong ensemble cast and bold direction make the case. The four actors flit from classic Aussie family vignettes to otherworldly evocations of the natural world with uncanny but compelling ease. One minute they are scrambling around looking for the canary, and the next they are a nest of beings – birds, humans, whatever – building a complex song from taps and clicks.
The production makes powerful use of sound and lighting (Sammy Reid) alongside physical theatre. Against a backdrop of birdsong and disembodied voices, the cast transforms the most basic of props – a mask, a rope, a chair – into powerful set pieces. Moments such as Michael Ho’s swirling evocation of a murmuration, and the spectacular final appearance of the lyrebird, are magical.
Lily Hayman’s debut playis an intriguing and challenging new work, defiantly non-linear, insisting its audience hold contrasting ideas, characters and images in their minds simultaneously. Concentrating complex ideas (and an entire novel) into a tight 50 minutes means much is left out but, like a spare, finely crafted verse, these gaps are where the show really finds its power.
The gaps are where the audience gets to listen, to see connections, and to become part of the process of making meaning. The dense tangle continues to come into focus in my mind, long after the lights go on.