I missed out on seeing Phil Davies’ debut play Firebird in the Hampstead Downstairs space, but was able to watch a recording of the live stream on the Time Out website later on. I’m really glad I made the effort to see it, as I thought it was an incredibly powerful and worthwhile play.
Directed by Edward Hall, the play is about the issue of grooming and consent among teenagers, a highly topical problem. Set in Rotherham, the location of the recent scandals, it does not attempt to shine a light on why the perpetrators of this particular injustice were of a particular background, instead choosing to focus on one particular victim and examine her experience with, and response to, her treatment.
Tia is a troubled fourteen-year-old who meets an older man, AJ, in a local takeaway. He claims to be a youth worker, but we, the audience, can sense that something is not right, especially when he takes out his phone to snap a picture of her. He eventually forms a “relationship” with Tia, grooming her and then exploiting her among his friends.
The play takes a non-linear approach to the narrative: you soon realise that the opening scene, with Tia and her friend, actually takes place after the events of the remainder of the play. This allows us to gain an insight into how things have affected Tia, offering strong insight despite the short length of the play.
The small cast of three do a superb job: in particular Callie Cooke is brilliant as Tia, evoking her character’s vulnerability beneath her tough attitude. Phaldut Sharma is also excellent as AJ, amiable and affable on the surface but with a sinister side. Interestingly, he also plays the policeman responsible for taking down Tia’s statement: this is possibly because the producers wanted to limit the size of the cast but it also has the effect of suggesting that to girls like Tia, the police are also the “enemy”. Completing the trio, Tahirah Sharif is excellent as Katie, Tia’s new friend.
Even when viewed through the distancing computer screen, I found the play to be very difficult to watch, but I’m glad I persevered. Powerful and affecting.