Review | The Canary and The Crow, The Arcola Theatre ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

New shoes on, blazer collar up and National Association of Backpacks approved backpack at the ready, it’s time for school. The Bird has secured a scholarship to the prestigious private school, Patrician Boys. In this new environment, The Bird has got lots to learn about how to fit in when the posh young white boys are nothing like the friends he grew up with. It turns out that most of the important lessons he has to learn fall outside of the school curriculum.

After first seeing ‘The Canary and the Crow’ during its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer, I caught it again shortly afterwards during its pop-up tour with the 2019 Roundabout Festival. Now at the Arcola Theatre, my latest visit marks my third time. What is it about this show that I’ve been drawn to watch it more than once in such a short space of time?

The Canary and the Crow gives a voice to those isolating thoughts that many learn to suppress when you feel like an outsider and don’t quite belong. Bird notices that being one of only two black boys in the whole year means that he’s received differently by the rest of his classmates. That is until he begins to morph into an ‘acceptable black’. Though he gains by earning the approval of those around him, he also unknowingly starts to lose parts of who he used to be. The semi-autobiographical play, written by Daniel Ward, provides a personal commentary on the structural imbalances in opportunity, power and wealth in society as seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy.

The interactive gig theatre piece by Hull-based theatre company, Middle Child, shakes up the traditional theatre format and operates by its own rules. Co-composers James Frewer and Nigel Taylor aka Prez 96 have created a unique and electrifying sound. It contrasts grime and hip hop beats with the classical sounds of cellos and a soprano voice. These elements swirl together, acting as a musical representation of the two opposing worlds which the Bird finds himself caught between.

Taylor in the role of Snipes/The Cage delivers an impressive performance in this show which marks his acting debut. Actor/musician, Laurie Jamieson is endlessly funny in his portrayal of the various posh caricatures at Patrician Boys. He is a gifted improviser where he manages to pull off something different in each of the performances I’ve seen. Rachel Barnes, who plays the keys as well as cello, is particularly memorable in her scene as the Maths Teacher obsessed with how the boys speak. Ward carries the show with a boyish and youthful energy, frequently bounding and leaping across the stage. He pulls off the comedic parts brilliantly, but its the moments of introspection where he delivers internal monologues, when the piece really comes into its own.

At the Arcola, the production has been given the space to breathe. Although it may not have the same intimacy as the in-the-round venue at Edinburgh, it still manages to pack the same punch as it did the first time. The lighting and sound design have stepped it up a notch too. It’s riveting to connect with a piece so striking and relevant. Safe to say that this probably won’t be my last time seeing it.

Photo Credit: The Other Richard


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