Review: DIRTY BIRDS at Heath Ledger Theater

McElhinny sisters combine for the first time in whimsical yet absurd story of siblings and imagination

By: Nov. 28, 2023
Review: DIRTY BIRDS at Heath Ledger Theater

For the first time, sisters Hayley and Mandy McElhinny acted and wrote together for DIRTY BIRDS. With wit and chemistry happening freely between them, one may wonder why they didn't get together sooner. DIRTY BIRDS is a joyful and thought-provoking meander through a series of scenes as navigated by sisters who run the full breadth of feelings between siblings, from love and longing through to rivalry and feigned indifference. This may be their first time sharing the pen and the stage, but if DIRTY BIRDS is anything to go by, we hope it's not their last.

The set is a striking house of cardboard, and the single room the sisters share is the only scene for the show. However, via the imaginations and games of the two, the room becomes (with the help of some magic touches from lighting designer Paul Jackson) whatever the two imagine it to be. Much like a cardboard fort the sisters may have built as kids, their feeling of safety and security in their house is misguided as the walls begin to falter and fall as the show continues. The haunting soundtrack is provided by Rachael Deese, with the differing sounds and music helping to change the pace of the show, with time passing slowly at times whilst days seem to fly past at others. Director Kate Champion (who also collaborated on the script) makes so much with so little, and the audience is taken along to wherever the imaginations and moods of the sisters on stage go.

Review: DIRTY BIRDS at Heath Ledger Theater

The chemistry and comedy between Mandy and Hayley McElhinny is completely effortless, and the show portrays an array of thoughts, feelings and conversations between two sisters on stage as if they were real life. The two interact as if they are playing, getting lost in the people their characters want to be and focusing more on building their facades (their cardboard houses, if you will) rather than looking inwards. What it creates is two loveable and oddly relatable characters always bordering on absurdity and making what is mundane to many become extraordinary. In their strange journey, the sisters are effortlessly hilarious, making the audience wonder, think, and laugh throughout the show.

With a runtime of 70 minutes, DIRTY BIRDS is a perfect length, and a wonderful introduction to the pairing of Mandy and Hayley McElhinny whom we've grown to know and love through their separate endeavours. Witty, whimsical, and thought provoking, DIRTY BIRDS reminds us of our childhoods and our siblings, and exists in a single room yet allows us all to consider where the characters, and indeed ourselves, fit into the world.

DIRTY BIRDS is at the Heath Ledger Theatre until December 10. Tickets and more information from BLACK SWAN Theatre Company