Review: The Canary and The Crow, Arcola Theatre
PUBLISHED: 14:11 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:11 21 January 2020
The Other Richard
Politically charged ‘gig theatre’ mashes up grime rap with a fable about a working class black boy who wins a private school scholarship is raw, vital, sometimes crass, but keeps you hooked
The Canary and the Crow is the second show from Hull theatre company Middle Child whose ambition is to start a revolution in theatre.
On the basis on this charged 'gig-theatre' play - a form they herald as their unique selling point - they are more than heading in the right direction.
Here, a grime-rap soundtrack is mashed up with a monologue about a working class black boy who wins a scholarship to an elite private school where he struggles to be accepted.
Companies who announce they want to make Political theatre (yes, the capital P is in the programme notes) set themselves up for a potential fall these world-weary days, but the introduction to this show is disarming: performer Nigel Taylor leaps up from his laptop side-stage and whips the audience into an excitable state with a heady grime set (even critics joined in the wild arm waving)
And then the charismatic Daniel Ward (who wrote this autobiographical piece) directly addresses the audience explaining how inspiration came when an actor visited his drama school warning BAME students about the perils of losing your identity in a culturally white-washed industry before launching into his performance as Bird, the outsider kid in a polarized world.
It's this blend of raw emotion - at times crassly expressed - with impressive theatrical skill that keeps you hooked.
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While the running fable of the Canary (privileged society) and the Crow (the greedy and disaffected) holds few surprises, there are many wonderful observations in the writing.
When Bird arrives on his first day at school, an avatar for his single mother's pride, his indignation is palpable: 'why no girls!'
In an electric exchange with his childhood friend Snipes (Taylor soars in this one of multiple roles), Bird's rapidly advancing critical thinking means he can read between the lines of Snipes' dud zero-hours contract.
Electronic piano with an accompaniment of mystical vocals (unfortunately think Frozen 2) underscore some of Bird's realisation moments, hammering out transitions.
But the satirising of the public school rugby fanatic played by Laurie Jamieson shouting 'I love rugga' to violent cello strumming is eminently pleasing. A vital and unique piece of theatre.