Paper Birds: Ask Me Anything
Jude Worthington-Firn, Year 12, Hollyfield Sixth Form
Sunday, March 1, 2020
An informative production that tackles difficult issues affecting young people.
Paper Birds’ latest touring show played at the Vault Festival in February. The company had sent out letters to teenagers across England asking them to send in their problems, highlighting that ‘nothing was off limits’, and the show revolves around answering these questions, to aid the youth of today. The resulting production is written in the style of a 1980s/90s magazine advice column.
Georgie Coles, Rosie Doonan, and Kylie Perry perform scenes with friendly banter that feels completely unscripted, and there is fantastic music, with half of the songs sung solo by the Doonan – an accomplished musician – and the rest by the ensemble. The final song ends the show spectacularly and had me singing along.
Another way in which the play excels is the use of technical effects by Daren Perry. TV screens across the set produce atmosphere for certain scenes and provide lyrics to the songs as they are played. The character Bridge It – a joke on Siri – speaks through a text-to-speech program on one of the TVs. The voice provides information about and definitions of words to help younger audience members, to comedic effect, but Bridge It also works fantastically later in the performance as a way to show the audience that the internet can't solve our every problem, especially problems relating to mental health. I was very impressed with this message.
What begins as a relatively safe comedy does a 180° turn in tone towards the end and begins to tackle the real message of the show. Modern youth have more mental health problems than any generation before, and the cast tackle this by moving past the questions that would suit a 1980s magazine advice column, to the hard questions concerning freedom, rights, disabilities and LGBTQ issues. To help them deal with these questions, videos are shown of experts asked in advance, who are better advised to address these problems and offer advice. But as the questions get tougher and the topics once again shift, this time to self-harm and even suicide, the characters must face their inability to help.
The performance is moving and thought-provoking at this point, and had me entranced, the messages are conveyed very well and with an appropriate amount of seriousness. I think anyone over the age of fifteen will find something to connect with and appreciate this unique gem of theatre.