Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 10th August 2018
“It felt more like a first draft or preview for an idea which has potential but needs more delicate and thoughtful attention to be brought off“
Hummingbird, presented at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre as part of this year’s Camden Fringe, left me wanting to have been shown more and told less. It is set in an alternate present in which social media vloggers, known as “Hummingbirds” are paid by governments and corporations to influence how and where the populace choose to place their attention. They are both influencers of the societal narrative and at the bidding of masters higher up the chain of command.
As it becomes clear that this future is slightly strange, the story’s premise feels a little unnecessary and forced. Hummingbirds surely exist already, although we don’t call them that – rather “Instagrammers”. The show uses the idea as a way to explore aspects of our attention, compassion and capacity for action as a society: if we are always being redirected to trivial or human interest stories, how can we see the bigger picture? What is more important?
Questions like this are the backbone of Hummingbird’s sixty minutes, and for the most part they play out engagingly enough as we follow the characters of Owen, an easy-going and un-self-aware “Hummingbird”, and his girlfriend Emma, a conscientious environmentalist, activist, vegan, charity worker and all-round good person. The sweet relationship between the two is believably explored in brief vignettes, as their differing ways of looking at the world tease out the questions posed above.
The bare black-box stage is sparse apart from a few chairs and a white sheet, used for a slightly out-of-place physical sequence in the opening moments of the play, which I felt would have been more fitting at the end of the piece.
The show is at its strongest when snappily moving between short scenes which build upon one another. A brief suction-like sound smooths the transitions, and the lighting is similarly simple. Owen’s video camera is nicely used as a bridge between the performers and the audience, although it would have been advantageous to see more imaginative use of props, especially some more technology, given how this features in the piece.
The acting is strong and often subtle, with twin leads Owen and Emma both enduring trials which cause them to re-examine what they thought they knew about the world. My biggest problem was that the script was on-the-nose in the extreme toward the conclusion, as well as engaging in some strange dystopian tropes that seemed jarringly out of place with what had gone before.
If more care had been taken in communicating the show’s themes, as well as in making more use of the resources in staging, the show would have been far stronger; rather, it felt more like a first draft or preview for an idea which has potential but needs more delicate and thoughtful attention to be brought off.
Reviewed by Gus Mitchell
Lion & Unicorn Theatre until 12th August
as part of The Camden Fringe Festival 2018