Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jessica Butcher: Where Do Little Birds Go?

By | Published on Wednesday 26 October 2016


When playwright Camilla Whitehill’s monologue ‘Where Do Little Birds Go?’ was on at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, our reviewer was hugely impressed by the play, as well as its talented performer. It’s set in sixties London, where the protagonist comes into full on contact with the  leading players of the capital’s criminal underbelly.
The piece has been revived elsewhere since, and now heads to the Old Red Lion for a month long run. I spoke to the star of the show, Jessica Butcher.

CM: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about what happens in the play? What’s the story?
JB: The play is about a 24 year old woman called Lucy Fuller, who is recounting her experience of coming to London at the age of 18. It was 1966 and she wanted to be a singer. It’s a story about survival and what people do to keep going in the hardest of situations. Lucy becomes involved in gangster London club life, where she meets the Kray Twins and then gets abducted by Reggie and locked in a flat with an escaped murderer, Frank Mitchell.

CM: How would you describe the character that you play? Who is she?
JB: Lucy is resourceful, resilient, empathetic and has a great capacity for joy and love. But she’s been hurt, very badly, and she’s coming to terms with that. She’s also funny and very sharp.

CM: Why were you attracted to the role? How did you come to be playing it?
JB: I will never forget the first time I read the script; it was a sunny Sunday morning in June, two and half years ago. It made me laugh and cry and it terrified me, in a good way, and I knew I’ve never wanted to play a part more. The character is full of so many things. She is capable of so much.

There were three rounds of auditions with the writer Camilla and the director Sarah over a couple of weeks, including a workshop audition, and then Sarah phoned me to tell me I’d got the part. It was a great day!

CM: She’s based on a real person, isn’t she? How close is the narrative to the truth?
JB: Camilla has written a fictional character, but the narrative of what actually happened to her, from getting a job in Winston’s Nightclub and then being abducted and held captive is all true. The newspapers and most books about the Kray’s just refer to her as ‘the girl’. Camilla wanted to give her a voice and allow her story to be told.

CM: It’s set in the sixties of course – did you do any research, at all…? Immerse yourself in sixties ‘stuff’?
JB: Yes, I’ve done a lot of research. I think I’ve watched every documentary about London in the 60s there is! I’ve got some brilliant 60s playlists going on too – it was a wonderful time for music and dancing! YouTube also has some amazing footage from that time in London and everyday life. Yesterday, I walked around Whitechapel and looked at the buildings and talked to some fascinating people who remember that time. It’s still very tangible.

CM: You’ve been playing the role for a while now (our reviewer was very affected by it when she saw it in Edinburgh in 2015) so do you feel you know it inside out? Has your performance changed at all since the early days?
JB: I’m so pleased your reviewer connected to it. Sarah and I worked out the other day that we’ve done 46 shows of ‘Where Do Little Birds Go?’, and yes, I have been playing her for a while but I’ve never felt I know her inside out. Every show is different, every rehearsal there is a new discovery, and she constantly surprises me. My performance has changed a lot, and I hope will continue to do so. This run in November should be surprising too.

CM: The play is by up and coming writer Camilla Whitehill. How involved is she with the production?
JB: Camilla is a remarkable and brilliant writer and all round great human; it’s only a matter of time now before her work is on a massive stage or television. She’s very involved with the production in lots of ways. She doesn’t come into rehearsal that much though, she trusts us I think! No, I know she does!

CM: How does a one person performance compare to being part of an ensemble cast? Which is easier? Does it have an effect on the way your relationship with the director works?
JB: Blimey, it’s very different. I don’t think one is easier than another, but it is certainly a very different experience with the director. Sarah and I are very close, we now have our own sort of short hand language and way of working together, and that is how we have built the show. She is an extraordinary woman, director and friend.

CM: Do you think the production will have a life after the imminent London run? Are there further plans for it?
JB: We just don’t know. Rosalyn Newbury is producing and she is relentlessly brilliant, so who knows where we all end up. All I do know is that as long as audiences continue to respond to it and enjoy it, we will keep working. I believe Lucy’s story deserves to be spoken to a wide audience, so we shall see. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the next month and all it will bring; it’s such a special thing.

CM: What’s next for you?
JB: It’s an exciting time for women in the industry. There is a lot going on, but among my contemporaries, both men and women, I feel there are good and positive things happening to get more female-led stories and characters out there. We have to do it! I want to play women who are complex and challenging, who are exploring all the areas of being a woman, we are multi-dimensional, and whether that’s on stage or screen, I don’t mind.

I hope Camilla writes another play and lets me be in it! And I want to work with Longsight theatre forever. I’ve also been writing a bit myself and would like to develop that further, a piece about romantic love and feminism… it might be a bit of stand up or something, not sure, we shall see.

I’m also going to be working with the screenwriter, Amelia Spencer, which I’m very much looking forward to. But for now, I’m focused on Lucy, and our month at the Old Red Lion. Come and see us please!

‘Where Do Little Birds Go?’ is on at the Old Red Lion from 1-26 Nov. See this page here for info and to book.

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