Birdcage Thursdays; sets free the stigma of obsessive-compulsive disorders to seek familial values as a positive solution. Sandra Fiona Long’s delicate tale is an earnest and insightful probe into the isolation of hoarding.
Fortyfivedownstairs presents Long’s innovative portrayal of this often hidden affliction. With the expertise of director Caitlin Dullard, the story comes to light in a unique blend of narrative, monologues and fascinating dance sequences.
Genevieve Picot is marvellous as Helene Lewis, the ageing mother who resides amongst hoards of boxes with her pet cockatiel. The multi-skilled Sophia Constantine plays dual parts, the cockatiel (Amanda), and her anxious and frustrated daughter Catherine. Sandra Fiona Long also features as the humorous narrator for the inner workings of the characters minds. The unique blend of Long’s humorous narrative and Raya Slavin’s haunting compositions, lightens the gloomy nature of the hoarding condition.
Helene’s neighbours have labeled her habit and home, a ‘fire hazard’ and a council inspection looms. Helene appears to be a contradiction of perfectionism and laziness. Her cockatiel’s cage is dirty, her collections are mounting to waist and shoulder height, yet she finds time to attend lawn bowls and dance classes.
Catherine has two children of her own and repeatedly persists with her mother to return her case worker’s phone calls. We see Catherine at her office on her lunch break, running madly on the spot with dumb bells—compensating with her own disorder of obsessive exercise. Catherine on her daily walk around the office building, the mother and daughter banter on speakerphone for Helene to take the inspection seriously.
Six weeks to the inspection, Helene hasn’t made any progress and she’s more concerned about her popularity or idle gossip at the bowls club or dancing studio. Catherine confronts Helene in the narrow pathways between all the boxes. Her daughter desperately tries to understand her mother’s condition and contain her anger.
Helene wants the ‘inspection business’ over with so she can get back to her ‘normal life’. The question is, what has ever been normal in her life? She’s lost her husband, the other pet cockatiel, and then Catherine tells her she won’t bring the grandkids over anymore, as they develop a cough every time. Helen is fearful of losing her independence and fails to realise she’s become a burden to her daughter.
The production explores the multitude of emotions associated with the hoarding disorder, in a dramatic scene encompassing a collage of movement, flashing lights and striking background tracks. Presumably, its’ a representation of the endless noise and chatter going on inside Helene’s head and her inability to comprehend the enormity of her situation.
Picot is superb as the dithering and adamant mother. Constantine’s talents appear to be endless as she morphs in and out of the cockatiel character back to Catherine—just one of Long’s clever metaphorical scenes. Also worth a mention, is Joanne Mott’s minimalist and efficient set design?
Will Helene move her memories, disguised as boxes, out of her home and pass the inspection? Will she lose her home and her cockatiel? ‘Its good for you mum,’ says Catherine, is it really good for her daughter instead? Picot’s portrayal of Helene’s overwhelming fear, obviously resonated with the teary-eyed audience.
Birdcage Thursdays is one woman’s coping mechanism for a heavy heart. Sandra Fiona Long tells an authentic story of overconsumption as a substitute for loneliness. She reminds us, as we grow older, perhaps the only thing we care about is people and relationships, not stuff.