First performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, Where Do Little Birds Go? is Camilla Whitehill’s first work that is now running at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre. Taking its name from the popular musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, it is a one-woman show charting Lucy Fuller’s life in East London in the time of the Krays’ dominance.
Lucy dreams of becoming a West End star, but begins her time in London as a barmaid at the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel; before long (thanks to Reggie) she gets a job at Winston’s, the infamous Mayfair nightclub, as a hostess. When her uncle dies, she becomes desperate to earn more money so begins doing “afters” with wealthy businessmen, but takes one risk too far when she agrees to help Reggie out – ending up locked up in a flat with a dangerous escaped criminal, not knowing if she’ll make it out alive…
Most of the play is Lucy narrating her story, occasionally playing out brief scenes between her & one or two other characters – as well as singing some songs. The latter feature adds an extra dimension to the show, and brightens what could be an extremely dark piece.
The set shows a nightclub out of hours, but doubles well as the pub with a piano in the corner. It has a great feeling of authenticity about it – I think the fact that the theatre is situated above a pub helps add to this.
What is most impressive, visually speaking, is Jamie Platt’s lighting design. His work is extraordinary, for what is essentially a room upstairs in a pub. Subtle transitions between different scenarios help the story to flow smoothly. The addition of blue & red lighting for Lucy’ dreams of singing on the West End stage adds a little something extra, and the lightbulbs on the tables which illuminate as Lucy stands on them are a nice touch. The sense of isolation that’s created when she tells the story of her drive to the flat in Barking is superb.
There can’t be many actresses who would be able to do a story & script such as this justice, but Jessica Butcher is most certainly one of them. She imbues Lucy with cheeky charm & a lively spirit that does its best to hide the pain & sadness she experienced at such a young age. Butcher is a masterful storyteller, and has the audience hooked from the outset as she belts out her first song. Her ability to hint at Lucy’s true feelings, beneath her bravado, is incredible.
The events depicted in this play took place 50 years ago, but it remains scarily relevant today. When Lucy is first propositioned in Winston’s another hostess says to her, “You can’t smack a guy for trying.” This immediately brings to mind some of the deplorable things Donald Trump has said & done – has there really been so little progress since the 60s?
My verdict? An extraordinary production that brings vividly to life a seedy period in London’s past – but with themes that are sadly still relevant to this day.
Where Do Little Birds Go? runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 26 November 2016. Tickets are available online and on the door.