BIRD at the Royal Exchange, preview: A girl named Bird

Daniel Jarvis

The 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting winner BIRD has its world premiere at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

“You know what Ava means? Bird. That’s what you are.”

Manchester’s cultural scene is world-renowned. From Manchester International Festival’s biannual celebration of new works of international significance to Maxine Peake treading the boards as a female Hamlet, the city has continually proved itself as a contender with the UK’s theatrical heavyweights. Much of the city’s other success stems from the arts ecology it engineers. With most prominent venues offering a vibrant studio programme (The Royal Exchange, The Lowry, Contact Theatre), there is a genuine culture of supported aspiration for emerging and developing artists.

At the heart of this is the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting; a biennial competition launched in 2005 as a partnership between the Royal Exchange and property company Bruntwood to ‘encourage and uncover new writing and to build a national platform for exciting new talent’. It’s open to anyone who has written a play and with applications submitted anonymously it rewards new writers solely on the merit of their writing. Previous winners have sometimes been provocative, challenging or intimately human and the 2013 winner BIRD – which comes to the Royal Exchange this June – is no exception.

This fragile coming-of-age story champions the strength of friendship

This poetic new play by Welsh playwright Katherine Chandler has been co-produced by Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Sherman Cymru theatre in Wales. It’s a fragile coming-of-age story, championing the strength of friendship; we follow Ava and Tash, on the verge of turning sixteen, as they leave their care home and attempt to navigate what freedom means to them as they step into an uncertain world.

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“I am fascinated by how people cope with the challenges and changes in life without the basic foundations of love and family,” says Chandler. “BIRD explores the absence of those two things and the impact they might have on us. But it’s essentially a story about friendship and love, found against the odds.”

Directed by Sherman Theatre’s Artistic Director Rachel O’Riordan, BIRD will be performed in the Royal Exchange Studio Theatre. The 90-seat theatre creates a space of intimacy that draws you in; a space dedicated to new writing, it is often the starting point for the lifespan of many works that go on to achieve national recognition. This summer’s season also includes Royal Court co-production Wish List (24 September – 15 October), which politically challenges the failure of a society that both demeans and demands labour, and Daniel Bye’s pandemic comedy Going Viral (6-7 January 2017).

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