The Birds

Written by Aristophanes; translated by Kenneth McLeish; music by Fiona Brice; directed by Ursula Wright

Two young men from Athens – let’s call them Eric and Pete – decide to leave the stresses and squabbles of city life and re-locate to the country. They seek the advice of King Tereus, now living in the shape of a hoopoe (one of the imaginative punishments handed out by Zeus, King of the Gods) on a remote, bird-inhabited mountain top. Not a promising scenario, but then Pete gets his big idea: why not create a new state, a kingdom of the birds, a buffer zone between humans and the gods, complete with visas and import/export taxes? Tereus is enthusiastic; the birds less so at first. But Pete wins them over with his promise of status and prestige.

However, once “cloud-cuckoo-land” has been formally inaugurated and the birds are preening themselves on their new-found importance, things start to go wrong. A stream of visitors arrives: a poet, a fortune-teller, an estate-agent, civil servants and a lawyer, a pop-star, a teenage tearaway and a gangster. Everyone wants to climb on the band-wagon; suddenly wings are in fashion. Even the gods themselves are forced to seek a negotiated settlement. As Pete begins to acquire a taste for power and the limelight, Tereus and Eric find themselves increasingly pushed aside. The dream of Utopia has turned into the nightmare of an authoritarian state. As Pete celebrates his coronation and marriage to Sovereignty (former Chief Security Adviser to Zeus), the gullible, once-free birds celebrate with enthusiasm.

This witty, satirical comedy, written in 414 BC (when Athens was engaged in a long and damaging war with Sparta) has lost none of its edge, nor its lyrical charm.

Download the programme (1 MB, PDF)

Download the flyer (0.2 MB, PDF)