Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Tongue of a Bird
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Telegraph review 2


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Tongue of a Bird

by Ellen McLaughlin

The Almeida Theatre Company

Almeida Theatre, 1 November 1997

The performance runs for approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute interval.

Maxine Deborah Findlay

Theatre: The Crucible (Crucible, Sheffield), Macbeth (Nuffield, Southampton), The Beaux' Stratagem (Tour), The Seagull (Tour), King Lear, As You Like It, (Oxford Stage Company), Snapshots, Caucasian Chalk Circle (Theatre Royal Stratford East), Merry Prankies (ICA), Commitments, Keyboard Skills (Bush) Borderline (Joint Stock/Royal Court), Tom and Viv (Royal Court), Top Girls (Royal Court and Public Theatre, New York) for which she won an OBIE Overgrown Paths (Royal Court), Cinderella and Sisters (Lyric, Hammersmith) Artists and Admirers (Riverside Studios), Hedda Gabler, Mrs Gauguin (Almeida),The New Menoza (Gate), The House of Bernada Alba (West End), The Clandestine Marriage (West End), Three Sisters, The New Inn, Twelfth Night The Merchant of Venice (RSC), Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens, Stanley, for which she won a 1996 Olivier Award, (Royal National Theatre), Stanley (Circle in the Square, New York). TV: Shroud for a Nightingale, What if it's Raining, First and Last, All Good Things, Top Girls, The House of Bernada Alba, Downtown Lagos, Anglo Saxon Attitutes, Natural Lies, Maigret, Sherlock Holmes, Milner, Casualty, The Vet, Kavanagh, Under the Sun. Film: Truly, Madly, Deeply, Jack and Sarah.

Deborah Findlay, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Dessa, Maxine's Mother Melanie Hill

Theatre: Educating Rita, Under Milk Wood, Selfish Shellfish, Twelfth Night, Deathtrap, Dirty Linen (Redgrave, Farnham), Educating Rita, Under Milk Wood (American Tour with British American Theatre Institute), Breezeblock Park (Derby Playhouse), Who Killed Hilda Murrell Fire in the Lake (Newcastle Playhouse), Women Beware Women (Royal Court) Bread, (Bournemouth, Dominion Theatre), I Have Been Here Before, (Royal Exchange), Cardiff East (Royal National Theatre). Television: Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Juliet Bravo, The Bill, A Night on the Tyne, Boon, Bread, Spender, Casualty, Cardiac Arrest, Circle of Deceit/Dark Secret, Finney, Cruel Tram, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Crocodile Shoes (Series I and II), Playing the Field Film: The Hawk, Shopping, When Saturday Comes, Brassed Off.

Melanie Hill, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Zofia, Maxine's grandmother Miriam Karlin

Theatre: Lavockin 5 (Iron Theatre, Glasgow), Cockroach Who (Ambassadors/Royal Court), Albertine in Five Times (Bridewell Theatre), The Old Ladies (Greenwich Theatre), Separate Tables (Albery Theatre), Hosmersholm (Young Vic), A Free Country (Tricycle Theatre), The Caretaker (Sherman Theatre, Cardiff), Not Fade Away (Stratford East), Arsenic and Old Lace (Derby Playhouse), Down Every Street (Stratford East), And Then There Were None (Duke of Yorks), Heresies (RSC), Torch Song Trilogy (Albery Theatre), Pack of Lies (Lyric Theatre and Tour), Romeo and Juliet (Leeds Playhouse), Coriolanus, Mother Courage and Her Children (Nottingham Playhouse), 84 Charing Cross Road (National Tour), Henry IV Parts I and II, Money, The Witch of Edmonton, The Twin Rivals (RSC), The Undertaking (Fortune Theatre), Fiddler on the Roof (Scottish Opera Tour), The Bed Before Yesterday (Hong Kong), The Seagull, Hay Fever, The Boyfriend, Oedipus the King (Leicester), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Leeds and Tour), Tonight We Improvise (Chichester Festival), Zorba (Greenwich Festival and Tour), How the Other Half Loves, Mother Courage and Her Children (Watford), High Time (Hampstead Theatre), Butterflies are Free (Australian Tour), Fiddler on the Roof (Her Majesty's Theatre), The Bellows Plays (Fortune Theatre), Is Australia Really Necessary? (Australian Tour), Things Ain't Wot They Used To Be (Stratford East and Garrick Theatre). Television: Casualty, So Haunt Me, The Rag Trade, UTZ, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Film: Incognito, Clockwork Orange.

Miriam Karlin, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Charlotte Catherine Holman

Theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird (Mermaid Theatre), The Innocents (The Mill at Sonning), Brighton Beach Memoirs, (Library Theatre, Manchester), The Miracle Worker (Comedy and Wyndham's), Dance Land (Old Red Lion), The Innocents (Haymarket, Basingstoke), A Little Princess (Library Theatre, Manchester), Approaching Zanzibar (Southwark Playhouse), The Last Girl (Finborough). Television: Wilderness, The Pale Horse, Cone Zone, Ghostbusters of East Finchley, From the Top, Drummonds II. Film: All the Kings Horses, VT3 Education Video, First Kiss.

Catherine Holman, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Evie Deirdre Harrison

Theatre: The Lights The Strip (Royal Court), June Moon (Hampstead and West End), The House of Yes (The Gate), Little Shop of Horrors, The Iceman Cometh (Lyric, Belfast), You Never Can Tell (West Yorkshire Playhouse) A Slight Case of Murder (Nottingham Playhouse), Don Juan, Sweet Charity (Harrogate), Angels Still Falling (Boulevard Theatre) In USA Classic Stage Company, Gertrude Stein Rep , Cucuracha, Portland Stage Co , New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and Wilhamstown Theatre Festival. Recordings: Pete Townsend's Psychoderelict, Shining Through soundtrack. Television: Jeeves and Wooster, London's Burning, Notorious, Mystique, 34,000 Steps. Film: Shining Through, Notorious, Flodder Does Manhattan, Merely Players.

Deirdre Harrison, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Direction Peter Gill

Theatre: Began his career as an actor, then in 1964 became Assistant Director of the Royal Court and then Associate Director in 1970. Founder Director of the Riverside Studios from 1976. He has been an Associate Director of the National since 1980 and was the Founding Director of the Royal National Theatre Studio. Directing credits include, for the Royal Court: A Collier's Friday Night, The Local Stigmatic, The Ruffian on the Stair, A Provincial Life, The Soldier's Fortune, The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Life Price, Over Gardens Out, The Sleepers Den, The Duchess of Malfi, Crete and Sergeant Pepper, The Merry-Go-Round, The Fool, Small Change. For Riverside Studios: The Cherry Orchard, The Changeling, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, Scrape off the Black. For the RSC: Twelfth Night, New England, A Patriot for Me. For the Royal National Theatre: A Month in the Country, Don Juan, Much Ado About Nothing, Danton's Death, Major Barbara, Tales from Hollywood, Small Change, Kick for Touch, Antigone, Venice Preserv'd, Fool for Love, The Murderers, As I Lay Dying, A Twist of Lemon, In the Blue, Bouncing, Up for None, The Garden of England, Show Songs, Mean Tears, Mrs Klein, Juno and the Paycock, Cardiff East. Other credits include Bow Down, Down by the Greenwood Side (QEH), The Marriage of Figaro (Opera North), The Way of the World (Lyric, Hammersmith), Uncle Vanya (Field Day). Plays: The Sleepers Den, Over Gardens Out, Small Change, Kick for Touch, In The Blue, Mean Tears, Certain Young Men, Cardiff East. Adaptations and versions: A Provincial Life, The Merry-Go-Round, The Cherry Orchard, Touch and Go, As I Lay Dying.

Peter Gill, Tongue of a Bird, 1997
Design William Dudley

Theatre includes: Small Change, The Fool, Edmund, Hamlet, Etta Jenks, I Licked a Slag's Deodorant, Kafka's Dick (all Royal Court). Ivanov, That Good Between Us, Richard III, The Party, The Merry Wives of Windsor (Olivier Award), Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Country Dancing, The General From America (all RSC), Marya (Old Vic), Hamlet (Neue Schauspielhaus Hamburg), The Ship, The Big Picnic (Glasgow's Cultural City of Europe), I Claudius, Mutiny!, Kiss Me Kate, Girlfriends, Matador, Heartbreak House, My Night with Reg, Fiat in the Skull, A Streetcar Named Desire (all West End). Lavender Blue, Larkrise to Candleford, Lost Worlds, The World Turned Upside Down, Undiscovered Country and Dispatches (Olivier Award), Don Quixote, Schweyk in the Second World War, The Real Inspector Hound and The Critic, The Mysteries (Olivier Award), Entertaining Strangers, Waiting for Godot, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Shaughraun, The Changeling, Bartholomew Fair, The Voysey Inheritance, The Crucible, The Coup, Pygmalion, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Olivier Award), On The Ledge, Johnny on a Spot, Under Milk Wood, Wild Oats, Mary Stuart (Olivier Award), The Alchemist (with Birmingham Repertory Theatre), The Homecoming (all Royal National Theatre). Some Sunny Day (Hampstead), Dance of the Vampires (Vienna). Opera includes: Anna Christie and Idomeneo (Welsh National Opera), Billy Budd (Metropolitan Opera), The Barber of Seville and Seraglio (Glyndebourne), Tales of Hoffman, Der Rosenkavalier, Don Giovanni, The Cunning Little Vixen (Royal Opera House), The Ring Cycle (Bayreuth), Un Ballo in Masquera (Salzburg Festival), Lucia Di Lammermoor (Lyric Opera of Chicago), Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera National de Paris). Television includes: Persuasion for the BBC for which he won a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society Award.

Lighting Hartley T A Kemp

Theatre includes: Faith (Royal Court Upstairs), In The Jungle of Cities (Southwark), Rosmersholm (London Stage Company), Bloody Poetry (Hotbed Productions), When Did You Last See My Mother? (BAG), The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen (Edinburgh and Chelsea Centre), Jabberwocky (Edinburgh), Seascape with Sharks and Dancer (Southwark), A Week with Tony (Finborough), Baby Jean, In High Germany (BAG), Stealing, Untrue Stories (New End), Shakespeare for Breakfast (Edinburgh and Singapore). Opera includes: Iris (Opera Holland Park), Carmen (Castle Ward Opera), Die Fledermaus (Chichester Festival Theatre and UK tour), for Opera Brava The Promise (QEH and Staines) and The Marriage of Figaro (QEH and UK tour). Musicals include: Dorian (Arts Theatre), Jesus Christ Superstar (Theatre Royal, Hanley), Assassins and Sweet Lorraine (Old Fire Station), The Happy Prince (UK tour).

Music Terry Davies

Theatre: has written music for Private Times (Library Theatre, Manchester), Whale (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield), Richard III (Icelandic National Theatre), Blood Wedding, Edward II, Top Girls (Octagon Theatre, Bolton), The Way of the World (Lyric), Uncle Vanya (Field Day), Goldhawk Road (Bush), The School for Scandal (English Touring Theatre), The Snow Queen (Theatre Clwyd), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Regent's Park), Tales from Hollywood, Antigone, The Festival of New Plays, Hamlet, Neaptide, The Misanthrope, Schism in England, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Royal National Theatre), Coriolanus, New England, A Patriot for Me (RSC). Films: has composed music for The Mystery of the Chateau of Dice and has orchestrated and conducted the scores for Deacon Brodie, Photographing Fanes, Cousin Bette and Perdita Durango. Musicals: has written The Birds and Kes — The Musical.

Sound John A Leonard

Consultant to the Almeida. Theatre credits for the Almeida include Scenes from an Execution, When We Dead Waken, Volpone, Bajazet, Lulu, All for Love, Hippolytos, The Gigli Concert, The Rules of the Game, The Showman, The LA Plays, The Life of Galileo, Butterfly Kiss, The Bed Before Yesterday, The Playboy of the Western World, The Dance of Death, The Silver Tassie, Venice Preserved, The Tower, "1953", The Rehearsal (also Garrick), Medea (also national tour, Wyndham's & Broadway — New York Critic's Drama Desk Award for Best Original Sound Design), No Man's Land (also Comedy), The Deep Blue Sea (also Apollo), Chatsky (also national tour), Moonlight (also Comedy), Hamlet (Hackney Empire and Broadway), Tartuffe, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ivanov, Heartbreak House. Other credits include Assassins (Donmar), Heartbreak House, Talking Heads (West End), The Ginger Man, (Deutsches Schauspielhaus), Macbeth (RSC), Cabaret (Donmar), Dead Funny (Hampstead and Vaudeville), Neville's Island (Apollo), Design for Living (Gielgud), The Clandestine Marriage (Queens), Cellmates (Albery), Break of Day (Out of Joint/Royal Court), Passion (Queens), Faust (RSC), The Pretenders (National Theatre of Norway), Uncle Vanya (Chichester, national tour, and West End), Hedda Gabler (Chichester). Opera credits include The Magic Flute, Mark Antony Turnage's Greek and The Bayliss Project production of A Small Green Space (English National Opera).

John Owens

Theatre includes: Production Sound Engineer for many companies including the Almeida, English Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre Productions include Nmagawa's Peer Gynt, Hamlet, Piaf and The Oedipus Plays for the Peter Hall Company, A Little Night Music, Lady in the Dark for the Royal National Theatre, Design for Living, Nine, The Fix, Enter the Guardsman for the Donmar Most recent productions include Divorce me Darling! at Chichester Festival Theatre, Biloxi Blues and The Odd Couple for the National Youth Theatre and the world tour of Othello for the Royal National Theatre.

Voice Coach Julia Wilson-Dixon
Casting Wendy Brazington
Production Photographer Ivan Kyncl
Production Manager Paul Clay
Company Stage Manager Rupert Carlile
Stage Manager Lisa Buckley
Deputy Stage Manager Sophie Gabszewicz
Assistant Stage Manager Kathy Anders
Chief Technician James Crout
Technicians Helen Holbrook
Paul Skelton
Costume Supervisor Alastair McArthur
Wardrobe Supervisor Susannah Gorgeous
Stage Crew Ian Henderson
Ivan Smith
Catherine Ellard
Set built by Andy Beauchamp
Set painted by Belinda Clisham
Stage Flying Flying by Foy
Production acknowledgements

Many thanks to

  • Joanne Price
  • Mark Bramble for US food
  • Trevor Robbins Ltd for the Vending Machine
  • Paul Miller
  • The Irish Centre, Hammersmith
  • Singer Frankie Armstrong
  • Additional costumes by Cathy Gordon
  • Dyeing Schultz & Wiremu and Helen Rosenthal
  • Knitting Gina Pinnick
  • Structural Consultant Alan Conisbee Associates
  • Make-up and Miss Karlin's wig by Angela Cobbin
Writer Ellen McLaughlin

Ellen McLaughlin's plays include Days and Nights Within, A Narrow Bed and Infinity's House, all of which received their professional premieres at the Actors' Theatre of Louisville.

A Narrow Bed was produced Off Broadway in 1987 by The New York Theater Workshop. Her play Iphigenia and Other Daughters was premiered at The Actors' Gang in Los Angeles and was later produced Off Broadway by the Classic Stage Company. All of her plays have received subsequent regional productions in the U.S. and some have been produced internationally in Germany, France and the former Yugoslavia.

McLaughlin is the recipient of grants from the Fund for New American Plays and the NBA. She is the winner of The Great American Play Contest, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace — Reader's Digest Fund.

Ellen McLaughlin is also an actor and is proud to have been involved in every American production of Angels in America throughout its Broadway run. She played the Angel.

Tongue of a Bird was originally commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum and it received its world premiere at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington.

"One of the finest things men and women do is rescue men and women, even when they know they are rescuing the dead" Norman Maclean 'Young Men and Fire'.
"It is possible that when we travel deep enough we always encounter an element of sadness, for full awareness of ourselves always includes the knowledge of our own ephemerality and the passage of time. But it is only in that knowledge that is large enough to cradle a tenderness for everything that is always too be lost — a tenderness for each of our moments, for others and for the world." Eva Hoffman, "Lost in Translation"
Ellen McLaughlin, Tongue of a Bird, 1997

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