What happens when you’re released from prison? In the words of Cheryl Byron, who served three years inside HMP Low Newton, it’s not exactly “hunky dory.”
Catrina McHugh’s Don’t Forget the Birds, based on separate interviews with Cheryl and her daughter Abigail, tells their story of separation and reconciliation – it’s complicated, sometimes contradictory and full of things left unsaid. It touches on drug abuse, race, domestic violence and suicide. But it’s also frequently funny and captures with skill and subtlety the special complicity and strain between mother and daughter, the joy and frustration of that singular bond.
Beneath a Welcome Home Mam banner in a space adorned with vases of roses, both Byrons compel (Cheryl is an accomplished singer and trained dancer, Abigail has been involved in am-dram since childhood) with a natural sense of timing and dynamism that’s never stagey or cloying.
The sequence in which Abigail recalls her mother’s sentencing is a powerful crescendo of panic and incomprehension, while the reconstruction of a prison visit takes us matter-of-factly through bewildering procedures with sniffer dogs and queues before lyrically evoking the agony of farewell.
Sections of movement eloquently express tenderness and trauma that words cannot, like the hesitant dance of tactile affection and withdrawal that happens on the sofa. The title comes from Cheryl’s instructions to feed the birds in the garden while she’s gone, a duty that Abigail takes to heart. It’s a detail that encapsulates so much of this show’s emotional underpinnings: prevailing love in a precarious world.