Fringe Q&A: Tallulah Brown, When the Birds Come

Margaret has always told her little brother Stanley it’s his fault the ice is melting. She doesn’t want to live in the Alaskan tundra. She wants to run away and be a normal teenager in Anchorage. Years later, the rift between the siblings has seismically grown. In a fast-melting world, will love be left behind? Hit writer Tallulah Brown returns to the Fringe following the blazing success of Songlines

Is this your first time at the Fringe?

My play Songlines which was a piece of gig theatre, co-produced by DugOut and HighTide, was at Pleasance Beneath last year. As the writer of the show I also scored it with my band so I actually sat on stage with my guitar, staring at the audience for every single performance! And thinking do they like it? They hate it. They like it! They hate it. On repeat. For 45 shows.

Tell us a bit about the show you’re in this year?

The director Alexander Lass saw and loved Songlines, and he and producer Debbie Hicks wrote to me asking if I might like to write anything for Edinburgh this year, or if I had anything sitting in a drawer already written but unproduced. I wrote ‘When the Birds Come’ originally as a radio play about five years ago. I’d heard about this town Newtok in Alaska which will be the first entire town to be relocated due to climate change. I grew up right by the sea in Suffolk, erosion and the Shoreline Management plans that the UK has put in place have always been an obsession for me. The setting of Newtok provided me with a much more extreme example. The town has been asking for governmental help to move away from the oncoming river since the 90s, this Summer in 2019 marks the start of that move.

The play follows siblings Margaret and Stanley growing up on the Alaskan tundra. Older sister Margaret tells her little brother that it’s his fault the ice is melting; he is to blame for climate change. The second half of the play jumps forward 10 years. From 2015 to 2025 irreversible damage will have been done to the planet and I suppose the play asks what damage between siblings is irreversible?

How much work has gone into getting it ready for Edinburgh?

Due to Newtok being scheduled to move this Summer it felt like with this fringe it was now or never. Together with Alexander Lass I developed the script into a stage play and we worked closely with composer and sound designer Roly Witherow to create what I hope will be the most magical, almost fairytale, quite childlike but DARK telling of this climate shifting story. In terms of casting, we needed actors who could jump from acting aged 8 and 13, to 18 and 23, as well as having watertight American accents – so that was quite a search but the two we found are brilliant. The Yup’ik playwright Richard Perry was also hugely helpful with my research and fact checking.

There are thousands of shows on – why should Fringe-goers fork out to see yours?

The UK is an island, we couldn’t’t be more threatened by rising sea levels. ‘When The Birds Come’ offers up this extreme example of a town so badly hit by climate change that its inhabitants face having to leave and move to big cities, giving up their traditions and their whole way of life. The Yup’ik people may be on the other side of the world, but the danger of climate change is set to become our reality too.

Are there any other shows on this year you’d recommend?

James Rowland has four shows there this year PRAISE BE I’ve watched his previous shows across multiple fringes and they’ve always been a fringe highlight for me. To have all of them there at the same time, is blowing my fringe mind. Everything everyone says about ‘It’s true, it’s true, it’s true’ is absolutely true true true. Rob Oldham and Rose Matafeo got me through a weird patch of last year’s Fringe and they’re back – thank goodness and bring on the weird patches for this year’s fringe!

What’s on your hit-list to see?

Orlando by Lucy Roslyn directed by Josh Roche, George Chilcott is directing two shows for DugOut, Ed Macarthur Humoresque and Goodbear: Dougal, Lily Ashley’s Voo le Voo, the HighTide programme at Assembly looks a banger AND all hail Fight in the Dog for yet another Edinburgh to do list – they do all the work for you!

Sell your show in no more than ten words…

Climate and sibling deceit in a melting world love survives

When the birds come, Debbie Hicks Productions, Underbelly, Cowgate – White Belly, Aug 6-11, 13-25 at 2:40pm. For tickets go to

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