Robin - Red - Breast - Aviva Studios Review

Robin - Red - Breast - Aviva Studios Review

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Posted 2024-05-19 by David Keyworthfollow
The all-female brass band, dressed in bright red jackets, finished their first number. The stage went dark and so, as instructed, we all put on our headphones. We could hear the voice of Norah Palmer (Maxine Peake) in our ears. On stage, she was silently and anxiously moving inside a wood-frame structure, which represented her cottage. This being her place of retreat, after a break-up.

Norah’s increasing agitation was conveyed in every movement - the chopping of carrots certainly didn’t look like a therapeutic activity. She told us that she had to get used to living on her own and that this place is mine. But all the details she gave - and the discordant soundtrack by Gazelle Twin - made it sound like it would be better for her to bolt back to the city at the first opportunity.

Robin-Red-Breast at Aviva Studios 2024. Photo credit Tristram Kenton


She told us about being surrounded by invaders and intruders - parades of ants, mice in the walls, ghosts within the walls and even of someone having slept in her bed, and ‘Someone on the road outside says something that might be my name. She also tells us that wasps rise from their curved nest up into the purple night.

There is much unsettling poetry in the script, adapted by Daisy Johnson from John Bowen’s work, first broadcast in 1970, as part of the BBC’s Play For Today TV series.

Norah becomes pregnant by Rob, a handsome and silent man from the forest (Tyler Cameron). The cottage was hoisted up on wires to be above the stage and the scene shifted to her linking arms with her beau, in what looked like a wedding dance.

Robin-Red-Breast at Aviva Studios 2024. Photo credit Tristram Kenton


Then the action shifted again to a muddy field, deluged with rain. At first, she stated that she had never been here before but then said it was somewhere she knew from childhood.

Then the action shifted again, with Norah holding a microphone, and relating her experience of pregnancy and motherhood, to a group of other women (the brass band, now in their casual clothes). Maxine Peake was the only performer who spoke during the 55 minutes of the play.

When I handed my headphones back, as I filed out of Aviva Studios’ theatre-in-the-round North Warehouse, I felt unsettled but not as moved as I had expected. Maxine Peake’s performance was as compelling as ever, But in a couple of her previous collaborations with Sarah Frankcom (Director) and Imogen Knight Movement (Movement Director) The Nico Project and especially THEY I found that the unsettling combination of performance, music, sound, lighting and setting was complemented by a central thread of empathy for the narrator as we got to know her situation and her plight worsened.

After Robin/Red/Breast I found myself trying to piece together the powerful individual elements of the drama, to see if I could retrospectively feel more engaged by the fate of Norah and everything that had happened, in the echoing dark and in the eerie light.

Robin-Red-Breast at Aviva Studios 2024. Photo credit Tristram Kenton


Wednesday 15 to Sunday 26 May, 7.30pm
North Warehouse, Aviva Studios, Water Street, Manchester, M3 4JQ
0161 817 4531

55 minutes (no interval)
Suitable for ages 14+.

For more information and tickets

Sarah Frankcom, Maxine Peake, Tyler Cameron in rehearsal for Robin-Red-Breast May 2024. Photo credit Tristram Kenton.


Watch the Trailer here



Oxford Road Manchester, April 2024. Photo David Keyworth.


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283858 - 2024-04-20 17:08:26

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