A Mouthful of Birds is a collaboratively written theatre piece by Caryl Churchill and David Lan, combining text and dance to explore the nature of madness, possession and violence. It was inspired by Euripides’ Bacchae. The play was first performed in association with Joint Stock Theatre Company at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 27 November 1986 and opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 27 November 1986.
The play consists of 32 short vignettes relating to the theme of madness and possession. Lena is a mother who hears voices commanding her to drown her baby. A new spirit guide is taunting voodoo practitioner Marcia whilst Yvonne is a desperate alcoholic. Meanwhile, businessman Paul falls inexplicably and suddenly in love with a pig. A female prison warder bemoans the appearance of a new prisoner who is killing all her female inmates using magic, while Doreen is suffering from grotesque delusions. Herculine Barbin, played by a women but dressed as a man, delivers a monologue at the start of Act Two, while Dionysos, played by a man in a white petticoat, performs a series of dances that punctuate the action.
A Mouthful of Birds was developed in workshop with Joint Stock Theatre Company over a period of twelve weeks. As Caryl Churchill explains in the Introduction to Plays: Three, 'Ian Spink (choreographer) worked with the company continuously, making some material before any text was written, and some to fit specifically into scenes that were written to have dance in them.'
The Joint Stock production was directed by Ian Spink and Les Waters, and designed by Annie Smart. The cast included Tricia Kelly, Dona Croll, Christian Burgess, Vivienne Rochester, Philippe Giraudeau, Stephen Goff, Marjorie Yates and Amelda Brown.