Simon Stephens’ compelling new play follows Paul, the celebrity frontman of a band on the last legs of a 15-month world tour that has brought him dizzying heights of fame. He can have whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, exemplified perfectly in the opening scene when he smugly demands a locally-grown peach moments before going on stage — a near impossibility given that they’re in Moscow (Spinal Tap-esque undercurrents feature throughout).
From thereon in the arrogance and ego escalate in crescendo: Paul ‘shops’ for helicopters, persuades a hotel maid to join him on tour and messes around with a bandmate’s beloved girlfriend to dire consequences. And of course, you can’t have fame and limitless money without it all going to your head; Paul is constantly on the verge of cracking, forever asking questions like “who am I” and “why are all these people always looking at me” (indicating the audience, har har), but the play is also punctuated by some touching, more human scenes that lend it a good balance.
Andrew Scott — of Sherlock fame — absolutely nails his performance as Paul, capturing perfectly his magnetic mannerisms as well as his more bewildered and scared moments. The supporting characters too are refreshing and well-played, in particular the aforementioned maid (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) and a devil-may-care band manager (Daniel Cerqueira), and the sparse set, consisting of six plastic chairs and an ambiguous bronze structure, evoke perfectly the impersonal locations Paul finds himself in: hotels, backstage dressing rooms, clubs.
While there isn’t exactly anything new here in the portrayal of fame and celebrity (sex, drugs, money and ‘losing yourself’ being the currents that this play ride on), Andrew Scott puts on an electrifying performance, and the humour and moments of humility make it a captivating two hours.
Birdland is running now at Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, until 31 May. Tickets from £12. Londonist saw Birdland on a complimentary press ticket.