Birdland is the name of a genteel jazz and cabaret club on West 44th Street in New York. But it is nothing to do with this electrifying and disturbing new play, also called Birdland, that has opened at London's Royal Court, and is anything but genteel.
This bruising, bracing portrait of one man's self-destructive journey from rock icon to being both morally and financially bankrupt makes for gruelling but compelling viewing as it exposes the price to be paid for that kind of fame. Everyone and everything has a price, he thinks, but he knows the value of nothing.
Andrew Scott's Paul betrays just about everyone on his downward spiral, from his best friend Johnny (Alex Price) to the waitress he takes on his travels after he meets her in Moscow. This is a chilling portrait of narcissism run riot and a cautionary tale for our fame-obsessed age.
Playwright Simon Stephens articulates it superbly in a bleak series of 23 scenes. Like Jez Butterworth's Mojo, originally premiered on this same stage and revived in the West End last year, its central character is both charismatic but strangely absent, too; a man drifting through his own life. As played by Andrew Scott, you can't take your eyes off him, even as the play makes you sometimes want to avert your gaze.
Carrie Cracknell's production provides a propulsive momentum around him on Ian MacNeil's eerily impersonal environments.
"I recently spent a couple of uncomfortable hours having root canal work at the dentist’s, and I can honestly say it was a more enjoyable experience than watching this play."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"The result, though, is curiously dispiriting. For all the air of experiment in the abstract staging and multiple role-play of Carrie Cracknell's striking production, Stephens's drama, which is named after the Patti Smith song, is only intermittently successful at bursting through the cliches of the rock-rake's-progress."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Scott's performance catches perfectly Paul's weird contradictions. At moments, he exudes a little-boy-lost vulnerability; at other times, he shows the capricious arrogance of the star who knows that he can whistle up whatever he wants."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"...there’s not enough vitality in this portrait of a supposedly wild individual who can magnetise legions of fans. Paul’s antics are mostly tame compared to the legendary excesses of Led Zeppelin or Mötley Crüe."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard