Kicking off the full play section of the New Writing Festival is Derek Mitchell’s The Parakeets, directed by Anushka Chakravarti, a play about a group of friends handling their various personal issues in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a nearby shopping centre. The play touches on a great number of important issues, from racial and gender identity to radical terrorism and global warming, and while it may seem as though an hour-long play is hardly sufficient to confront such topics adequately, the excellent writing ensures that all these themes are handled respectfully and sensitively.
As it is the New Writing Festival, it seems appropriate first to laud Mitchell’s script. At its heart, I felt that The Parakeets was a witty and at times bizarre dark comedy, blending the pathos of each character’s troubles with a self-aware, easy kind of humour. Lines like “my grandparents survived the Holocaust — that is pretty punk, I guess” demonstrated Mitchell’s understated comedy, and never failed to win a laugh. It’s an ambitious play that covers a lot of ground, and though Mitchell’s writing is strongest in comic lines, the play does not suffer during moments of gravity.
The Parakeets demanded both deft comic timing and acute sensitivity of its actors, and they all responded well to the needs of the script. The whole cast worked generously as an ensemble, but were also individually strong. Fran Amewudah-Rivers anchored the production as Lillie, responding with an endearing innocence to the tragedies surrounding her. Alex Blanc and Kate Weir crafted a touching relationship between stricken acquaintances as Noon and Agnes, and acquit themselves nicely in their accent work. Unfortunately, Derek Mitchell had to step in nobly at the eleventh hour following an illness to play Eliot. Thankfully, his deadpan delivery — “it’s like gelatinous and green” — and easy stage presence meant that he carried off this last-minute change brilliantly, even with a script in his hand.
This was not a flawless production: aside from unavoidable issues like cast illness and an accident involving the set, there was some awkward pacing, which is perhaps attributable to opening night nerves. However, in general Chakravarti’s direction was solid, and the space of the BT was used effectively, helped along by a great set courtesy of Julieta Caldas. The NWF is about artists gaining experience, and I look forward to seeing what’s next for the writer, director, and cast of this production. If you can get there on Thursday or Saturday, I fully recommend The Parakeets for an evening of undeniable fun with an important message at its heart.