BWW Review: FLEDGLINGS, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Change can be tricky - not least when you're a teenage girl going through puberty, loss, and friendship trouble.
Written by Tamsin Daisy Rees, directed by Emily Collins, and produced by Holly Mitchell, Fledglings is a tender tale of birds, best friendships and blossoming young women.
The show is a truly homegrown piece of theatre. It had its world premiere at Nuffield Southampton Theatres, where its producers, NST Laboratory Associates, support early-year creatives through collaborative projects in order to grow and develop their skills.
Kelsey and Alice are birders. Or rather, Kelsey is. Alice watches birds because it makes her best friend happy, but all the while she is trying to work out what makes her happy too. Kelsey, on the other hand, is set on recreating the days that brought her so close to her late grandad, and is determined to keep everything else just as it is.
Fledglings follows these two best friends on their journey of self-discovery as they forge new paths, experience a few 'firsts', and learn to open up to the new and unfamiliar while letting go of the past.
This is a thoughtful story of growing up; of stuffing bras, first periods, and trying to understand who you really like. We are offered a window into the lives of two teenage girls who are working out their own separate identities, and what that means for their relationship. Much like the characters watching birds from their hide, we are invited to observe the girls from afar in their natural habitat.
The tiny cast of two is captivating. Rose Wardlaw is fantastic as Kelsey, who is intent on maintaining her hard, confident exterior. While being wonderfully spunky and seemingly solid, Wardlaw lets little glimpses of fragility through, giving her character so much depth.
Bethan Cullinane plays the slightly more delicate Alice with beautiful vulnerability, displaying both youthful delight and adolescent worry with superb skill. You can't help but admire her character's strength and bravery, while also delighting in her girlish giggling.
Each scene is either split by simple, yet effective, demonstrations of time passing, or a monologue, where each girl takes it in turn to 'speak to the camera' as if being interviewed for a YouTube channel. These monologues offer a little extra insight into their personalities and thoughts, giving the production an extra element of intimacy.
The set is stunning and unusual, too. All of the action takes place in Kelsey's grandad's hide, overlooking a salt marsh. It's beautifully designed by Verity Johnson, and is the perfect safe space for this articulate and poignant story. The skyscape realistically blooms orange as the sun sets, and lighting cleverly imitates both birds in flight, and flames. The stage is completely static, allowing the audience to fully focus on the acting, making for a captivating experience.
The addition of simple folk singing from the two actors is eerily moving. Add to that the subtle audio of waves and birds, alongside the occasional angsty radio track, and the sound (by Annie May Fletcher) carefully highlights and accentuates the on-stage atmosphere.
The teenage chats and stories regaled, the cigarettes shared and sexualities explored feel so familiar, and many members of the audience will be able to reminisce and relate to this clever portrayal of adolescent uncertainty. Kelsey's connection with her late grandad and the underlying story of grief is not only moving, but it adds an extra layer to the overarching theme of growing up, and the adult responsibilities that come with it.
Fledglings is a delicate and touching exploration of loss, growth and identity, peppered with nostalgia, humour, teenage anxiety and the occasional feathered friend.
Photo credit: Ali Wright