BBC Scotland, 20 December 2011
Set in contemporary Edinburgh, This Solitary Bird began with
Kate, a tyro journalist (Kim Gerard), looking for a story for publication in the Evening Echo by trying
to find out more about local down-and-out Bill's (Finlay McLean's) life. She asked him relentless questions with the
kind of false sincerity characteristic of the profession; as her colleague - and one-time lover - Jim (Kenny
Blyth) wryly observed, friendship and work just don't mix. Thus she had to adopt this kind of attitude so as to
"get to the truth" of her subject's life. Although living in squalor, Bill was sufficiently intelligent to
see through her schemes, and reacted predictably.
As Nick Thorpe's play unfolded, however, the two protagonists
forged a deeper relationship. Bill was a lonely man, a God-fearing epileptic who had never been able to sustain any love-affairs;
as a result, he lived in mournful isolation. While Kate had had an ordinary middle-class upbringing in England
before crossing the border, she experienced much the same kind of loneliness as Bill. Although she could enjoy the thrill
of seeing her story in print, she had no one to share it with. She and Kate continued to fight like cat and dog, but Bill
admitted that he needed her around, if only to scare away the inevitable presence of death, the grim reaper, which kept haunting
his dreams both at home and in hospital.
In the end Kate failed to save him: Bill died one night at home after another epileptic
fit. However he had left a final message on her answer-phone, explaining how he understood the implications of his solitary
life; occasionally it might have been lonely, but it gave him the independence to live like a solitary bird flying through
the sky. This knowledge gave him a unique insight into Kate's plight; which is why he considered her such an emotionally suitable
Nick Thorpe's play gave the two leading actors - Finlay McLean and Kim Gerard - the
chance to turn in some vocally adept performances. McLean's Bill was blessed with the gift of words, even though most
of them were derogatory. However this proved nothing more than a facade; as he gained confidence in Kate's presence, Bill
revealed a softer, more tender side. For her part Kate tried to maintain the role of a campaigning scribe, interested solely
in the story; but she gradually came to understand the worthlessness of that existence. As she listened to Bill's message
silently, an occasional sniffle revealing her true state of mind, she understood the importance of human relationships for
her future well-being.
I really enjoyed David Ian Neville's production, in a thirty-minute slot which I
have only recently discovered. Hats off to BBC Scotland for providing a welcome aural outlet for exciting new writers.