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by Leo Butler
Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain
Designed by takis
Lighting by Paul Keogan
Composed by Philip Stewart
Produced by Hugh de la Bedoyere for Natural Shocks in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Cast: Catherine Cusack. Alex Palmer.

**** Four Stars and Critics' Choice
The Independent On Sunday

“The electrifying London fringe premiere" (Kate Bassett, The Independent on Sunday) of a new play by George Devine award-winning playwright Leo Butler.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Finborough Theatre
Tuesday, 2 February – Saturday, 27 February 2010
Tuesday to Sunday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm.
Tickets £15, £11 concessions, except Tuesday Evenings £11 all seats, and Saturday evenings £15 all seats.
Performance Length: 75 minutes with no interval.
Full booking information here

"You don't just disappear.
You don't just vanish into thin air.
Well do you?.
Well do you, Jack?"

Every five minutes a child goes missing.

Debbie and Jack face the ultimate parental nightmare - the disappearance of their child - and find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of interrogations, recriminations and unanswerable questions.

The Early Bird delves into the furthest reaches of the fractured minds of the traumatised as the grieving couple relive their last memories of their daughter.

The Early Bird is performed by real life husband and wife Catherine Cusack (NT, Old Vic, Shared Experience, Dublin’s Abbey and Gate Theatres) and Alex Palmer (Royal Court, Almeida, Traverse), and is Butler’s most experimential play to date. A team including designer takis (Stovepipe, NT/Bush/Hightide), lighting designer Paul Keogan (RSC, NT, Royal Court, Abbey Theatre Associate Artist) and composer Philip Stewart (Abbey Theatre, Project, Olympia) lead by director Donnacadh O’Briain bring this play to life in a highly original and daring staging.

Playwright Leo Butler is an award-winning playwright, winning the prestigious George Devine Award in 2001. He is currently working on an adaptation of The Pilgrim’s Progress for the Royal Shakespeare Company and a feature film project with the artist Gillian Wearing. His plays include Faces in the Crowd, Lucky Dog, Redundant, Made of Stone (Royal Court Theatre), I’ll Be The Devil (Royal Shakespeare Company), Heroes (National Theatre), The Early Bird (Belfast Festival) and Devotion (Theatre Centre Tour). Leo’s BBC television play Jerusalem the Golden was broadcast in 2002. He also teaches the Royal Court Theatre’s respected Young Writers’ Programme.

Director Donnacadh O’Briain recently directed a major Irish production of King Lear, with Gerard Murphy and Catherine Cusack for Dublin’s Second Age Theatre Company. He also worked with Complicité as a collaborator on the development of Endgame. He spent three years as Assistant Director with the Royal Shakespeare Company, working initially on The Canterbury Tales and subsequently with Michael Boyd on the multi award-winning Histories, including Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Richard III. Other directing includes, in the UK, Richard III (Southwark Playhouse - Winner of the Better Bankside Shakespeare Award), Hush (Edinburgh Festival and Arcola Theatre) and his adaptation of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (Edinburgh Festival). In Dublin, Don't Take Your Coat Off (Irish Tour and Dublin Fringe Festival - Award Nominee), Kilt (Andrew’s Lane Theatre), Twelfth Night (Dublin Fringe Festival), The Comical Mysteries and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Civic Theatre). As Assistant Director at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, Donnacadh worked on A Christmas Carol and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. As a student, he was awarded Best Director at the Irish Student Drama Awards for his adaptation of Mistero Buffo. Donnacadh has taught acting at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, East 15, DIT and was last year’s Artist in Residence at Warwick University.

Designer takis studied Stage Design at the Romanian National University of Arts, Bucharest (1998-2002) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London (2002-2004). During the same period, he also assisted at the Royal Opera House, the Opera Festival of Rome, the Greek National Opera and the Megaron, Athens Concert Hall. His design work has been seen worldwide in various indoor and outdoor venues. Theatre includes Stovepipe (Hightide and National Theatre production at the Bush Theatre), The Marriage Bed (Hong Kong and New York), Invasion (Soho Theatre), Boxergirl, Scenes from the Big Picture (RADA), I Caught Crabs in Walberswick (Bush Theatre and Edinburgh Festival), A Tale for Winter (UK Tour), Marat/Sade (Jermyn Street Theatre), Crazy Lady (The Drill Hall and Contact Theatre, Manchester), Nikolina (Edinburgh Festival) and Schweyk in the Second World War (Duisburg, Germany). Installations include Forgotten Peacock (Design Museum and The Brunswick), The Tempest (Hobbs Factory), Installation 496 (RADA), Goldfish (Paris, France), Mythological Installation Oedipus (Bucharest, Romania), Visual Performance in Baroque Spirit (Venice, Italy). Music Performances include Maria Callas - Vissi D'arte, Vissi D'amore (Barbican), Choruses, In the Light of the Night (Ancient Epidaurus Theatre, Frankfurt), The Words of Love (Athens, Greece), Nikos Skalkotas (Queen Elizabeth Hall).

Lighting Designer Paul Keogan is an Associate Artist of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin where his lighting designs include The Rivals, The Comedy of Errors, Marble, Ages of the Moon, Lay Me Down Softly, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Big Love, Romeo and Juliet, Woman and Scarecrow, Julius Caesar, The School for Scandal, Homeland, The Electrocution of Children, Amazing Grace, Living Quarters, Making History, The Map Maker’s Sorrow, Cúirt an Mheán Oíche, Mrs Warren’s Profession, Eden, Bailegangáire, Down the Line, The Wild Duck, The Cherry Orchard, Portia Coughlan and Heavenly Bodies. Other designs include The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company), Performances, Gates of Gold, Festen, The Deep Blue Sea, The Old Curiosity Shop (Gate Theatre), Tartuffe (Liverpool Playhouse), Intemperance (Liverpool Everyman Theatre), Harvest (Royal Court Theatre), Blue/Orange (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield), Born Bad, In Arabia We’d All be Kings (Hampstead Theatre), All Over Town (Calipo Theatre, Drogheda, Ireland), medEia, The Hairy Ape, Woyzeck (Corcadorca Theatre Company, Cork), Die Zauberflöte (National Opera of Korea), The Walworth Farce (Druid Theatre Company, Galway), The Makropulos Case, Un Ballo in Maschera, Der Fliegende Holländer (Opera Zuid, Maastricht), Quay West, Blasted, Far Away (Bedrock Productions, Dublin), Chair, Angel/Babel (Operating Theatre), Catalyst (Rex Levitates and National Ballet of China, Beijing), The Lighthouse (Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte, Montepulciano, Italy), Snegurochka, The Mines of Sulphur, Susannah, Pénélope, Don Gregorio, Der Silbersee, Rusalka and Transformations (Wexford Festival Opera, Ireland).

Composer Philip Stewart’s recent work includes Second Age’s production of King Lear, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain. Work at the National Theatre of Ireland – Abbey Theatre, Dublin, includes Ages of the Moon, Lay Me Down Softly, Terminus, A Number and The Big House. He has developed a long-standing relationship with Hatch Theatre Company and created original music and sound design for their critically acclaimed production of Further than the Furthest as well as Cruel and Tender, The Country, Pyrenees and Blood (Project Arts Centre, Dublin). Other theatre includes Jumping on my Shadow (TEAM), The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger (Olympia Theatre, Dublin), Paranoid and The Licky Rake Show (RedBear Productions). As a freelance composer he has contributed music to theatre, dance, documentaries and short films. Philip studied composition at Trinity College Dublin under Donnacha Dennehy and Roger Doyle.

The cast includes
Catherine Cusack’s theatre credits in the UK include the sell-out production of The Gigli Concert at the Finborough Theatre, What Fatima Did (Hampstead Theatre), Fragile, The Factory Girls (Arcola Theatre), Uncle Vanya (Wilton’s Music Hall), Mary Stuart (National Theatre of Scotland), The Mushroom Pickers (Southwark Playhouse), Bronte (York Theatre Royal), Mill on the Floss, Mrs Warren’s Profession (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith), Our Lady of Sligo (National Theatre), Blood Red Saffron Yellow (Drum Theatre, Plymouth), Measure for Measure (English Touring Theatre), Prayers of Sherkin (The Old Vic) and Phaedra’s Love (Gate Theatre). Theatre in Ireland includes King Lear (Second Age Theatre Company, Dublin), You Never Can Tell, The Seagull, Moonlight (Gate Theatre, Dublin), Lovers Meeting (Druid Theatre, Galway), Bold Girls (National Theatre of Ireland – Peacock Theatre) and Agnes of God (Andrews Lane Theatre, Dublin). Film includes Finding Neverland, Conspiracy of Silence, Boxed and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. Television includes The Bill, Doctors, Jonathan Creek, Ballykissangel, Coronation Street, Cadfael and Dr. Who.

Alex Palmer’s theatre credits include Bad Jazz (National Tour), About the Boy, Under the Skin (Royal Court Theatre), The Novice (Almeida Theatre), Blood Red Saffron Yellow (Drum Theatre, Plymouth) and Hush (Edinburgh Festival and Arcola Theatre). Film includes Eden Lake, Closing the Ring, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Master and Commander, 28 Days Later, Plunkett and MacLean and Still Crazy. Television includes Identity, Law and Order UK, The Bill, Casualty, Iceman Murder, Doc Martin, Who Killed Charlie Bravo, Spooks, Holby City, Ultimate Force, Walking with Cavemen, Armadillo, Mrs Bradley Mystery, Night Flight, Innocents, Sunburn, Dangerfield and Butterfly Collectors.

The Press on Leo Butler
“A dark new theatrical star” Evening Standard
“Leo Butler’s outstanding new play – his best yet – catches the mood of the moment…raw and devastating” The Daily Telegraph on Faces in the Crowd
“An extraordinary piece of writing which comes at you in a blizzard of diseased banter.” Daily Mail on I’ll be the Devil
“I am still astonished by the 28-year-old Butler’s profound understanding of marital solitude.” The Guardian on Lucky Dog
“A darkly funny and remarkably poignant portrait of marriage”The Independent on Sunday on Lucky Dog
“Butler boldly creates a psychologically complex female lead. He also looks to be a master of stagecraft, subtly manipulating his audience and characters with dramatic reversals, before arriving at an ending that is inevitable, surprising and loaded with pity and fear.” Evening Standard on Redundant

The Press on Donnacadh O’Briain
“A vibrant production that captures the dramatic essence of the play” Irish Mail on Sunday on King Lear
“Superb ... not only brave, but carried off with remarkable acuity” The Scotsman on Hush
“O’Briain directs with an inspired touch ... This one is special.” Irish Times on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“O’Briain goes for the imaginative rather than the predictable whenever possible, taking what could have been simply an ordinary human story up a notch into affecting theatre.” Sunday Tribune (Ireland) on Don’t Take Your Coat Off
“A demanding portrayal of hysteria, nudity and pain ... minimal but ingenious.” The Scotsman on Blue Velvet
“Stylish, energetic and unconventional” Irish Times on King Lear
“A convincing and disquieting production … as audaciously different as it is disturbingly engrossing ..." Metro on Hush
“This enchanting Dream is as good as it gets” Irish Times on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Press on The Early Bird
“The staging is tight and taut, the set amazing, the lights and sound in perfect balance of sustained mood, the emotional upheaval captivating, the switching in thought associations suspenseful, the performances mesmerising.” Blanche Marvin, Theatrereviews

“This is a very special drama, beautifully presented.” Michael Spring,

“Director Donnacadh O'Briain and designer takis have placed the couple within a transparent plastic box, with the audience on four sides, increasing the sense both of uneasy voyeurism and of the characters' being trapped by self-created psychological boundaries.” Gerald Berkowitz,

“Donnacadh O'Briain's production generates an intense, interrogatory intimacy. The audience encircles the glass, close up, as if peering straight into the couple's living-room, or through a thought bubble into their minds.” Kate Bassett, The Independent on Sunday

“Some seriously disturbing dark stuff…Leo Butler's language is dark and modern, making much use of echoing phrases and repeated sections as we discover new and changing meanings as the action progresses…I rather suspect it will sell out soon, so book now. But be warned, uncompromising and brutal, this is not theatre for the faint-hearted!” Ian Foster,

“The play is also excellently performed by a real-life husband and wife: Catherine Cusack quivers with accusatory tension and Alex Palmer hints at dark forces beneath a rough surface. Likely to make parents shift uneasily in their seats.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“As their shattered minds and wrecked marriage are exposed, Cusack and Palmer lash out with hair-raising, feral hatred.” Kate Bassett, The Independent On Sunday

“In the hands of Catherine Cusack and Alex Ryan, the two actors charged with showing us the aftermath of this terrible situation, it becomes aggressive, ambiguous and intensely creepy.” Miriam Zendler, musicOMH.COM

“Played with passion, restraint and even playfulness by Catherine Cusack and Alex Palmer” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Cusack and Palmer….are, by turns, dazed, furious, jealous, proud, affectionate – the gamut of a relationship turned out onto the stage.” Jay Richards, Extra! Extra!

“Director Donnacadh O'Briain…has been blessed with two superb actors on top form. In particular, Catherine Cusack bares her soul as Debbie, the mother who teeters on the edge of mental instability.” Philip Fisher, The British Theatre Guide

“The play gets a fiercely coherent production by Donnacadh O'Briain” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Donnacadh O’Briain’s expert production” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Donnacadh O’Briain seems to conduct more than he directs, drawing a tragic music out of Butler’s script.” Jay Richards, Extra! Extra!

“The design by takis is sensational: the actors are enclosed in a clear perspex cube and surrounded by piles of ash, with just a toy chest inside. Lit harshly from fluorescent tubes below, it is clear they are trapped, both physically and emotionally in their horrific experience, but as the seats are arranged around the box in the round, it is clear that we the audience are also trapped, with nowhere to hide from the unfolding action and the unflinching, coruscating stares of the actors.” Ian Foster,

“The set, by Takis, not only conveys the right image of entrapment but turns us – as happens in cases of missing children – into unwilling voyeurs.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“For almost exactly an hour in Leo Butler's taut drama, actors Catherine Cusack and Alex Palmer are trapped in a Takis-designed Perspex cube surrounded by members of the audience, who are of necessity voyeurs peering into their characters' troubled lives.” Philip Fisher, The British Theatre Guide

“Philip Stewart’s ambient sound design summons up an askew, uncertain atmosphere.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“The set, by designer takis is quite simply stunning." Michael Spring, Theatre World

“In The Early Bird, the already intimate space of the Finborough Theatre is rendered even more claustrophobic by this set: a glass box within which the two actors are contained. It appears sealed – I saw no evidence of a door; the actors were there at the start, and stayed in it as the audience was ushered out. Lord knows how they got in – lowered in through the open top, perhaps, or – David Blaine-like – they are spending the whole of the run encased.” Gaveston, A Long Succession Of Thin Evenings

“A deeply unsettling, claustrophobic 70 minutes of theatre” Miriam Zendler, musicOMH.COM

“Running at just over an hour, this packs more drama into a small space than any overblown epic I’ve ever seen.” Gaveston, A Long Succession Of Thin Evenings

“The Early Bird announces itself as something dramatic and important from the moment that the audience take their seats….The Early Bird isn’t so much a play about a couple with a child who has disappeared, as a play about all of us, about the way we live and about the undercurrents which swirl around below our everyday existence. It is an odd, unsettling experience, very nicely played and with production values that are really outstanding.” Michael Spring, Theatre World

“Jump-cutting back and forth between the panic-stricken aftermath and previous events, Butler creates the effect of feverish, leaping thoughts.” Kate Bassett, The Independent On Sunday

“It is a great play about the potential of theatre, and its ability to raise fundamental questions about the way we live.” Michael Spring, Theatre World

“Butler’s treatment of these questions will ring in the ears long after the visceral impact of this uncompromising and immediate piece has faded.” Jay Richards, Extra! Extra!

“The ingredients coalesce and new features form, it’s with a boil-and-bubble fury where nothing can be handled, and nothing definite’s left at the end.” Timothy Ramsden, ReviewsGate

“Intense, intimate and unsettling...this play will stay with you for a long time after the curtain falls.” Deborah Klayman,


Image: Missing Child by John Paul Thornton copyright 2000
Artist John Paul Thornton has painted hundreds of portraits of missing children as a way to honour them. His art may be viewed at