Having not seen its first staging earlier in the year at The Butterfly Club, it feels like time and thought has been put into grounding the work, particularly by Jessica Martin who plays Franny. She delivers a nuanced performance showing Franny as being naive and innocent but with a yearning to comprehend who she is and what her place in society is. As ridiculous as the premise of her being intimate with a cockatiel is, Martin sells the emotional connection she seeks that she can't seem to find from the humans around her.
Her parents played by Phoebe Taylor and Matt Tester (also reprising his role from the original season) are great examples of two different styles of parenting that both still fail to understand their child or her world. She may have just turned eight, but Franny is a lot more inquisitive and knowledgeable than both her parents give her credit for. Taylor's chemistry with Martin feels genuine as she tries to support and recognise her daughter's needs. While Tester puts in a dedicated performance as Franny's nerdy father, Richard never seems like he belongs in this world with the rest of the characters and could do with some rewriting in this regard.
Ryan Stewart as Mr. Ping Pong is very entertaining to watch as he interacts with the humans in his life and holds them captive to his sometimes manipulative and violent ways. Brendan McFarlane as the sexist and sleazy family friend Richard and later as a boy from Franny's school is a sound depiction of how women are often treated by men: patronised, sexualised and ignored.
The set design by Jason Chalmers consists of two rooms in the family house: Franny's bedroom - which is overflowing with toys, dolls and fluffy cushions - and the living room/bedroom of her parents. It is a bit cramped, but it creates a closeness between the family members where even when we are watching one scene unfold, we are reminded of the one that we are not seeing in the next 'room', constantly binding the characters together.
Despite the limited space, Phoebe Taylor's direction finds ways of having the characters on the move with purpose and not stifled by their surroundings. She finds the humour and the honesty in Harris' script and ensures that both these elements are clear in the performances and aided by Jason Crick's lighting design and Steven Carnell's sound design.
Love Bird may push the envelope with what it depicts on stage, but look beyond the bestiality and Harris has something meaningful and insightful to impart. The show raises some interesting questions on how young girls and teenagers (but also women) see themselves and how they are seen by the people around them and society - especially during those all-important formative years.
Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts (entrance Victoria St)
Season: until 7 October | Sun 4pm
Bookings: La Mama Theatre
Photo Credit: Jakelene Vukasinovic