Tender horrors: Firebird @TrafStudios
Drama ripped from the headlines and an intense, emotional performance from Callie Cooke in the lead make Firebird at Trafalgar Studios a must see show.
Leaving the theatre you might feel as if you have seen first hand a traumatic event. And perhaps you have. This piece conveys some of the brutal realities victims of child sexual exploitation experience. It leaves you drained, shocked and angry that this is probably still going on. But that is no doubt its intention.
Cooke plays Tia. She is mouthy and confident teenager with a foster mother who is never around. But when she meets the older and charismatic AJ, he shows her attention that she has never experienced before. And she soon finds out it comes at a price.
Cooke is a recent graduate from Arts Education School and this is her professional stage debut. Here she captures all the contradictions of a self-destructive abandoned teenager. It is a performance that is relentless in its intensity and fury. She ventures into some dark territory here. And it is heartbreaking to watch as she clings to her abuser long after his betrayal of her trust.
As the charismatic AJ and police investigator Simon, Phaldut Sharma delivers two distinct performances. The economy in the casting underscores that all men are the same here. As AJ he is an endearing and seemingly trustworthy character. He is at ease and concerned about Tia, which makes what then unfolds even more uncomfortable.
The piece opens with Tia in a wheelchair with her friend Katie (played by Tahirah Sharif) hanging out, getting drunk and teasing each other. Sharif as Katie is the opposite to Tia. Her wide-eyed optimism and warmth is a welcome relief from the horrors of the rest of the play. But the real purpose of their friendship only becomes clear towards the end. And it serves to emphasise how easy it is for young girls to fall victims to abuse.
This is a slick production directed by Edward Hall. Loud music, and simple effects push the story along. An impressive and topical debut play from Phil Davies. It uses the real life and news stories to recreate the horrific situation vulnerable children face in modern Britain.
Firebird is at Trafalgar Studios until 19 March. During this time Parliament will be debating The Policing and Criminal Justice Bill. This legislation has the potential increase the ability to tackle child sexual exploitation.
Photos: Production photos by Robert Day