Teenage birthdays seem to have a habit of blurring into one. Often unexceptional, often underwhelming, often anticlimactic. However, we are lucky enough to be invited to four birthdays in one night at the Corpus Playroom this week: Alannah Lewis’ latest play BirthdA. The L-shaped venue has been transformed into the familiar wonderland of a teen bedroom, complete with fairy lights hugging the door, posters on the wall, and a stuffed toy lounging on the bed. Consisting of six monologues, we follow the unnamed BirthdA girl (Teuta Day) through her turbulent years of teenage-hood. Issues of sex, female friendship, and mother-daughter relations are entwined to create an honest portrayal of a young girl. Her struggles, opinions and insights, although sometimes completely bizarre, are consistently charming. The monologues don’t force drama – her birthdays are sometimes mundane, and often lonely. This is the play’s strength, and the combination of Lewis’ subtle, funny script with Day’s infectious energy and Zoe Black’s consistent and attentive direction makes for a great piece of new writing that certainly marks the trio as ones to watch.
Teuta Day lights up the room from the offset with her energy and confidence. The role is demanding. BirthdA is a wordy play which moves at lightning speed. Day is constantly animated, her intelligence palpable as we see her ideas darting through the room. These wash around us as she chats to us like an old friend. It is clear that Lewis has really paid attention to the subtleties of the BirthdA girl’s speech and Black’s direction is a testament to this – the lighthearted energy that Day embodies allows the poignant moments to sit with us in a way that is pleasing but not over emphasised.
Lewis’ writing is sharp and consistent, and, most importantly, very funny. The audience were often in uproar with Day’s one liners and unique perspectives on all things from pineapples to pronunciation to her formidable grandmother. The monologue form is challenging. It needs momentum and structure and the protagonist must work alone to create a world onstage. Lewis’s script provides this and more. The images she conjures are striking – poetic language is never pretentious but images burn quick and bright through Day’s razor sharp delivery. An image which stands out to me is a description of laughter as someone turning on and off a light switch inside you until you can’t remember whether it was dark or light to begin with. Another beautiful image is that of pre-emptive loneliness. BirthdA girl confesses to sometimes missing her mum even when she’s with her, continuing that it makes her want to wrap herself in all her mum’s clothes until she dies of ‘heat exhaustion’. Images like this are scattered throughout the text to create an equal balance of laughter and intimacy.
It would have been nice to see more variety in the BirthdA girl’s character as she got older. At times, the distinctions between her fourteen and eighteen-year-old self were not clear except for subtle costume shifts or the changing numbers of the birthday cards propped against the bed. Time was well expressed, however, through the engaging and aesthetically pleasing videos that marked transitions, and the sound too was effective in creating atmosphere.
The BirthdA girl is arguably a forgotten figure in society, and yet she is alive in this play that deals with disability, grief, motherhood and friendship. Day’s performance is absolutely outstanding, and combined with Lewis’ beautifully written script and Black’s thoughtful direction, BirthdA is a play that should not be overlooked!