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Every gull for himself in Fledgling

Sami Ibrahim’s impressive radio debut takes off with startling imagery and a terrific soundscape

20 August, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Fledgling is broadcast on Radio 3 on August 21

IN Sami Ibrahim’s inventive coming of age drama, Fledgling, a youngster (Ruby Bentall) stands on a beach in a deserted seaside town, waiting for her dad to return. She’s starving, but all she can do is dream of food now that it’s scarce: “After streets emptied, our stomachs emptied quicker.”

Through her internal monologue, we learn that her dad has promised to find her something but has to fight for scraps. He’s become badly scarred and has even lost an eye.

Her mum left when she was young. Home is an empty shelter on the beach. The youngster is reduced to eating a rotten fish to stave off hunger while she waits.

In stark prose Ibrahim creates an apocalyptic landscape. There is another figure on the beach, old, with a broken neck, a ripped windpipe, he’s sitting next to a bag of food – some chopped up potato – but can’t eat unaided. It doesn’t seem right to steal from someone barely alive, so the youngster helps him feed and curls up next to him for warmth.

When an unintelligible Long Leg approaches her, we realise that she is a fledgling gull. Long Legs used to feed them but, now there’s a disease, they’re trapped indoors. It’s every gull for himself.

The fledgling doesn’t know yet who to trust, but senses it’s wrong to gorge on the guts of the old gull like the other birds. She tries to keep her distance from Pigeon (Clare Corbett) who talks nonsense and the menacing Twitcher (Carl Prekopp) who offers to help her find her dad on the other side of the mountain.

Realising she has to fend for herself, the young gull sets off on her own but flies into the midst of a shooting party.

Wounded in her wing, she struggles on, looking for her dad and finding danger at every turn.

Ibrahim is currently under commission at the Almeida and a writer-in-residence at Shakespeare’s Globe. Full of startling imagery, accompanied by a terrific soundscape, this is an impressive radio debut, performed with gusto by Bentall.

BBC Radio 4, 2.15pm, Friday, August 21

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