Pigeon English at Bristol Old Vic

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There was a palpable friendly buzz about the Bristol Old Vic last night for the opening of Pigeon English, a collaboration between Bristol Old Vic Young Company and the National Youth Theatre.  The production was ever so slightly delayed due to a couple of accidents, on and off stage, revealed the play’s director Miranda Cromwell and minor changes would have to take place.

This gave us a chance to take in the loveliness of the Old Vic for longer than we normally would and to notice the diverse Bristol audience that Pigeon English had attracted.

Based on the novel by Stephen Kelman and adapted for the stage by Gbolahan Obisesan, Pigeon English relays the story of Harri, newly arrived to England from Ghana with half of his family yet to afford the journey across continents.

A boy is killed.  With his school-friend, Dean, twelve year old Harri embarks on a sleuth-like investigation into the violent death, looking for clues, snooping where maybe they oughtn’t.  Told through the eyes of a boy approaching very early manhood, this tale of inner city life, troubled youths and knife crime is much sweeter and less gritty than you might expect.

The cast of 13 feels like a whole lot more actors, many taking on multiple roles.   The stage is constantly alive and some of the most enjoyable parts for me are when any number of characters burst into spontaneous dance.  This is interspersed with beatboxing,  a touch of free running and a script that allows the individuality of each actor shine though.

As Harri, David C. Johnson brings the piece together with his narration and warmth – his dance moves are endearing and the rapport he shares with his new best friend Dean, played with Frank Spencerlikeness (much better than it sounds) by Brandon Cook, feels very real.

There is a lot of interaction between characters in a neighbourhood where everyone knows everyone else.   Harri and his sister, Lydia, just want to fit in, to belong. Who doesn’t?   Lydia is befriended by the milkshake-wielding gang girl, Miquita, a probably misunderstood young woman, played by Lara Simpson.   She stands out for me – ruthless, warm, a little lost.

The changes?  Felix Pilgrim already has three roles in Pigeon English but an injury meant that he also stepped in to play Mr Frimpong – a touch of genius in my book and a role he should keep.

Solid performances, a good script and well-choreographed.  Yeah, I’d go again.

Pigeon English is on at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 10th August

– Review by Becky Condron

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Hot Air at Tobacco Factory Theatre

 

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I’ve never been up in a hot air balloon but, after having watched the performances given by the cast of Myrtle Theatre Company at Tobacco Factory Theatre on Saturday afternoon, I have a clearer vision of how it must feel, taste, look.

The Tobacco Factory has been transformed into the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta at Ashton Court (the real-life fiesta begins this week; Myrtle Theatre’s run in Bedminster ties in very neatly here) and it has a real festival-like atmosphere, right down to the fun-fair ticket booth, from where the play’s lighting and sound is controlled. A sea of asphalt is our green, green grass; miniature Bristol houses, created, I am told, by the team at our beloved Aardman Animations, are used to imaginative effect to show the city below and, every now and then, the ensemble drag in huge baskets to make this play very real indeed.

Hot Air is recommended for age 12+. After consulting with some of the Company at their excellent TF+ acting workshop event earlier in the week, it was felt that, yes, my 7 year old would be able to handle the 2 hours of words, songs, dance and fun. She did – some bonus that she had already met 5 members of Myrtle, 4 of whom were on stage for this performance. More than that, she was greeted at the auditorium entrance by her first name.

Sure, there is the odd “swear word” and she didn’t understand all of the dialogue but she stayed the pace and, like all of us, she loved Michelle’s Gaskell’s use of movement in the beginning of the second half, when the actors delight the audience by displaying enough emotion to make more than a few tears prickle.

Most of the actors take on multiple roles and the arena/stage is endlessly busy but never confusing, not once. So many characters, so convincingly portrayed that, you know, I’ve met every single one of them somewhere along this journey of life. ALL of the performances are spot on but my special mention goes to Jack Riddiford in his professional stage debut – you may struggle meet two characters as different as Sean the Chav and Jasper the Toff (I know who I’d rather spend my time with).

Take a trip to the Tobacco Factory this week for many, many reasons. You’ll come away feeling lighter than air. I promise. Just lovely.

 

Hot Air is on at Tobacco Factory Theatre until Saturday 10th August

 
– Review by Becky Condron