In An Alien Landscape
New production from Birds of Paradise Theatre Company sheds light on the rare Sudden Artistic Output Syndrome
Danny Start's new play for Birds of Paradise Theatre Company is based on one of those true-life events so rich and strange it would be a sin not to turn it into art. One of Start's acquaintances experienced the rare Sudden Artistic Output Syndrome following a double brain aneurysm, which softened the former boxer's personality and turned him into an artist with a relentless compulsion to draw and paint.
Start's depiction of the 'alien landscape' in which protagonist Albie Quinn (Paul Cunningham) finds himself largely avoids clichés about mental illness and creativity, but does feel rather dense and disjointed, shifting around in time and somewhat sidelining the most interesting aspects of the story: the nature and appeal of the protagonist Albie's art.
Yet Julie Ellen's production gains considerable levity from a dynamic performance from Cunningham, who invests Albie with a likeable everyman quality, bringing depth to scenes of heroism and tragedy. David Toole is also impressive in support as Albie's inadequate father and his puckish conscience, Klang. The action is nicely bound together by Kenny Miller's set, which provides a striking backdrop for video projections by Thickskin, the stark white frames evoking both a hospital environment and the austere surrounds of a contemporary gallery space.