Cillian Murphy Summons Demons In Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Barbican ★★★★☆

By Will Tizard Last edited 34 months ago

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Cillian Murphy Summons Demons In Grief Is The Thing With Feathers Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Barbican 4
Photo: Colm Hogan

Audiences might think they're in for a grind as the lights come up on the bleak apartment room set at Barbican’s new production of Grief is the Thing with Feathers. But this adaptation of Max Porter’s surprise hit book, exploring the wildly fluctuating dimensions of loss, won’t allow that illusion to last long. Curiously for a tale that dives deep into the jagged remains of a marriage and family after the mother’s random, pointless death, Enda Walsh’s production will tolerate zero despondency beyond the dressing of the stage.

Photo: Colm Hogan

Even when Murphy leaps through the fourth wall and cavorts madly into the audience in the form of a terrifying, manic crow, depression seems at the opposite end of the spectrum from the wild energy of his catharsis. Murphy plays both the grieving father of two brave, prankish sons, and the bizarre black bird who has come to live with them and scratch out its ramblings on their walls, attracted by the 'delicious' aroma of heartbreak.

Photo: Colm Hogan

Counterbalanced and buoyed by his sons (played alternatively by David Evans and Leo Hart and Taighen O’Callaghan and Adam Pemberton), who resolutely refuse to be anything but curious, messed up kids, Murphy’s dad character soon learns he may well have more cosmic power at his disposal than he realised in fending off the demanding intruder. His relationship to the bird, initially a noxious, obscene and seemingly-demonic menace, evolves through a subtly-shifting narrative into a kind of co-habitation with the family’s newly broken home — perhaps even a kind of crazed coziness.

Photo: Colm Hogan

Is the bird a personification of grief or some opportunist drawn to its dark purity, out to feast on the misery of the struggling trio? Perhaps even the crow, despite its diabolical cleverness — able to make tools even chimps cannot, as it boasts brashly — doesn’t quite know. This staging, conceived by Wayward Productions and premiered at the Black Box Theatre in Galway, is soon bound for the US, where its breathtaking, squawking flight may well be just another stop on its journey to ultimate transcendence.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Barbican, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS. Tickets from £16, until 13 April 2019.

Last Updated 29 March 2019