In early twentieth-century America, the electric chair was euphemistically known as the ‘hummingbird’, due to the humming noise electricity makes. Hummingbird by Tooth+Nail Theatre Company is named with this meaning in mind. It is a physical theatre piece based on the true story of the Lonely Hearts serial killers in late 1940s America.
Edith Cole (Harriet Feeny) is working in a funeral parlour when she hears a radio advertisement for the ‘Social Club’. She joins, and exchanges letters with Ralph Conti (Francois Lecomte), who ‘borrows’ money from women he meets through social clubs for a living. When they meet, it’s love at first sight. They move in together and, before long, Edith is assisting Ralph to con women out of their money and both are turning murder into a habit. Adam Gordon plays the detective questioning the couple about a series of homicides, along with various other characters.
The story is told mainly through physical theatre, which is supplemented by an effective combination of voice-over recordings and live dialogue. The soundtrack is a mixture of mid-century American love songs and radio adverts (prepare to have the Mr Clean jingle stuck in your head for some time), and eerie string music. The set doubles as a room in a flat or house and an interrogation suite, with a large table and spot lamp. The use of the lamp as a microphone for the radio announcer works surprisingly well.
Tooth+Nail are a very talented group. Every movement in Hummingbird is extraordinarily deliberate and graceful. At times, the pace becomes almost unbearably slow, in order to build tension before launching into another acrobatic sequence.
Hummingbird is a darkly beautiful interpretation of a chilling story, told by a talented trio of physical performers. The physical movement, voiceovers, dialogue, and music all work together effectively to tell the story, creating a powerfully captivating performance.