At around the age of thirteen, a school friend of mine once confronted me to say that if a black person ever did something to hurt her family she would stop speaking to me. At that age, I was stunned into silence. How could she conceivably think that I was responsible for the actions of any other black person that she encounters? I was sickened but couldn’t quite articulate why.
This memory was pushed to the forefront of my mind when I saw The Canary and The Crow which touches on themes such as this and more. Writer and lead performer, Daniel Ward, has created a painfully accurate portrayal of the daily battles which you are confronted with when growing up in an environment where you don’t quite feel like you belong.
The play is an immersive experience from the ground-breaking Hull-based company Middle Child. Through gig theatre and a pleasing combination of grime, hip-hop beats and the classical sounds of two cellos, you are plunged into the world of our young protagonist known as Bird. He is a black boy who secures a scholarship at the age of ten to attend a private school for boys where the majority of the kids are white.
The high-energy ensemble cast create a performance unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s arrestingly funny at times but also knows how to pack an emotional punch. The supporting cast includes the actor/musicians Rachel Barnes and Laurie Jamieson who characterise the various people at Bird’s school and Nigel Taylor as Snipes, Bird’s childhood friend.
As a black woman who went to an all-girl’s school, there were strong parallels between the experience of Bird and my own. When you mould yourself to be tolerated in society, you become an accepted black, an ‘Oreo’ as you’re not like those other blacks. But if you exhibit any behaviours which stray from the ‘norm’, you’re akin to the crow that screeches rather than the pleasing canary.
My own experience of seeing this show and how personally it resonated with me, may not be an experience that is shared by all. But whether it personally resonates with you or not, it’s a solid, gripping and creative piece of theatre that I’d fully recommend seeing.
The Canary and the Crow is playing at the Roundabout @ Summerhall on Aug 5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-25 at the time of writing.