Co-produced by Duckdown Theatre and Heavy Weather Theatre, Camilla Whitehill’s debut full-length play has already garnered some attention this year, winning the People’s Choice Award at Vault Festival 2015, and is now selling out to audiences at Edinburgh’s Underbelly. It details the experiences of Lucy Fuller, who as a seventeen year-old girl moves to London in 1966, with hopes of becoming a West End star. At the age of eighteen she is kidnapped by two of the city’s most notorious gangsters.
It’s a darkly enthralling story, expertly delivered by Jessica Butcher, who is both assertive and vulnerable as Fuller. Against her uncle’s best wishes she starts a barmaid job at The Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, where she is then scouted by the Krays to work as a hostess in their Mayfair venue, Winston’s, with the promise of beginning her career as a singer. Lucy performs songs at several points during her narrative, including a refrain of ‘Where do little birds go?’ – that is a moving reminder of her agency, despite the terrible situation in which she finds herself. The more surprisingly element to the story is the sympathy she feels towards the ‘axe-murderer’ Frank, who she is locked into a grimy flat with for four days, when it becomes apparent he is just as trapped as she is. We sense her fear knowing that she ‘will probably die here’ – it crushes her fighting spirit, but does not destroy it entirely.
The production is set in the interior of Winston’s – a bar with female hostesses and dancers who make extra cash by serving ‘afters’ to some of the clientele, and Justin Nardella’s design draws on the glamour and filth of the nightclub scene. At times the musical interludes come across as slightly forced, and the movement repetitive, although in one scene this repetition is used to build an effective discomfort in the audience as we are made aware of Lucy’s sexual exploitation.
As much as it is about Lucy’s terrifying experience of being brought into the criminal dealings of the Krays (based on the true story of Lisa Prescott), Whitehill’s play is also an evocative study of the world of 1960s East London, a time when streets were rife with the fear created by Ronnie and Reggie Kray – men, Lucy tells us, who do not have any friends. It is the strangeness of this unknown piece of history that really captivates in Where Do Little Birds Go? and proves to make a fine solo performance at this year’s Fringe.
Where Do Little Birds Go?
Edinburgh Festival: Underbelly (Big Belly) ‘til 30th August
(c) Joanna Lally, 2015