The Knee Jerk of Sloth

Reviewer's rating

Birds of Inconvenience is conveniently showing The Knee Jerk of Sloth at the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you are there you must see it.

An old glue factory is inhabited by four homeless people: Pete the light bulb collector, the silent Queenie who loves sandwiches, the violent Blake who urinates at inappropriate moments, and the dreamer Shane who has an angel.

They are haunted by a beautiful woman called Lillian, who merges somewhere between pigeon and guardian angel. Pete tragically pursues her and his hallucination is shared with the audience as Lillian, in a long black dress, appears ethereally on and off stage cooing, humming and playing instruments.

The usage of props and space is excellent. Stars cut out of newspaper dangle above a broken duvet which is strewn across a feather-covered floor. Lamps dotted around the stage create the illusion of cosiness which is later broken by the urine bucket which gets thrown across the room. Pete tries to hold a candlelit dinner with Lillian, however instead of a candle there is a light bulb on the table.

This performance interestingly parallels the voyeuristic gaze of the audience on the actors to the way homeless people are often either stared at or ignored. There is an uncomfortable and very effective moment when Blake begs the audience to stop staring at him. At night whilst the others sleep, one of the characters might appear ‘on stage’ to perform their dreams, theatrically bowing to the audience that has taken an interest in them: now they have our attention they want to savour it.

There is something magical about this performance. Maybe it is the carnivalesque space where the characters can act however they feel – totally unconstrained, drunk, saying whatever comes to mind; all of which is forgotten in the morning. However in the dark factory it is impossible to tell what is day and night; they live an eternal night.

Blake and Shane call each other ‘Me’ or ‘I’ in a surreal word-play giving the feeling of a dual consciousness, which serves to highlight their isolation. There’s a wonderfully fast moment where Shane thinks that Blake is starting to become as mad as he is, whilst he drinks out of a teapot despite holding a cup of tea in the other hand.

Special mention must go to Queenie whose timing is perfect. This performance is heartfelt and well worth seeing