ARC Stockton’s Where Do All The Dead Pigeons Go?: “this is bloody clever”

By Olivia Bevan

Co-produced by ARC Stockton and Northern Stage in association with Greyscale and directed and co-written by Ed Gaughan, Where Do All The Dead Pigeons Go? is a farcical, witty and bizarre one-man show that combines acting, music and animation in a whirlwind blend of comedy and science-fiction.

That’s to put it simply. In actual fact, as I sat watching this play written and performed by Scott Turnbull, I was overcome by one thought: “This is bloody clever.”

Instantly, I was drawn in by the set: a single table and chair, surrounded by pens, bits of paper; but then I noticed the peculiarities; the NASA logo draped over the table, which held a large projector and above this, a blank screen. The overall impression was that of a messy office, like that of a mad scientist. And that’s precisely who entered onstage. Well, our unwitting hero, Darren Smith from Stockton-on-Tees, was actually an astronaut stationed at Moonbase 1, but he certainly seemed bonkers. The audience barely noticed him as he quietly entered onstage, but then he sat down at the projector, and things quickly got weird.

With the aid of his trusty felt tip pens and an eclectic, space-age soundtrack, Turnbull (quite literally) drew us into the life of Darren, a lone lookout living on the moon, accompanied only by his seemingly less-than-intelligent Artificial Intelligence Unit and best friend, Tony. Turnbulls’ portrayal of the slightly stir-crazed Darren was frenetic: one minute, he was the boisterous and corny host of a live stream that was being beamed down to planet earth, showing us mere earthlings the wonders of the cosmos; the next, he was a lunatic, so entrenched in his own loneliness that the only way to channel his pent-up frustrations was to literally scream at the audience, amongst a plethora of other outstanding noises made by Turnbull throughout the course of the performance, as he mimed his way around the space station, creating an image for the audience of illuminated control panels and electronic screens.

When he wasn’t drawing two foxes making love, Darren was answering questions from people on earth about life in space, such as “What does space smell like?” However, rather than provide a logical answer, Darren went off on a Monty Python-esque tangent, using the projector to create crude drawings, some even based off the audience members themselves, to illustrate, well, nothing. The outcome of this was of course, utterly hilarious, as we stared into the mind of an individual so crazed by years of loneliness, whose stream of consciousness was so disjointed and mangled, that it felt like I’d been put in a spin dryer for an hour. For some, perhaps, this would have led to a headache, as Turnbulls’ Mighty Boosh style of comedy might understandably be too bizarre for some tastes, but as I have said, I thought the mind-bending genre-blending of comedy, tragedy, science fiction and drama was ingenious.

To say that Turnbull was good in his role would be an understatement. For me, there was nothing he could have done better. Despite his apparent madness, Turnbull’s portrayal of Darren was so natural, that despite all of the weird and wonderful things he was doing onstage, I never lost the core sense of his character – that he was a desperately lonely man, who was in such pain after his girlfriend left him (and took his dog) that to him, the most sensible course of action was to take a job working on the moon. As you do. The fact that Darren is still hiding from his pain is evident in glimpses throughout the play; the pained phone conversation with his mum and his unwillingness to leave his little bubble that is Moonbase 1. (If you’ve ever been dumped, Darren is painfully relatable.)

The true magic of this piece is what it manages to conjure up from nothing; just like the image of the inside of a spaceship on an empty stage, the video calls between Darren and his boss – who is nothing more than a drawing on a projector – relate genuinely believable and effective characters and their relationship to one another. But what blew me away the most was how heartfelt Darren’s bond with Tony the Robot was and how from this, I witnessed one of the most moving and original endings to a stage performance that I have ever seen.

If you can watch this, do. And if you can’t, do anyway.

Photograph: Christopher Bishop via whatsonstage.com

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