At the helm of Pigeon English is director Anna Niland who has skilfully combined the many elements of this production to create an exciting and vibrant piece of theatre. So strong is Seraphina Beh in her role as Harri, an 11-year-old immigrant from Ghania, that every word and movement gives her character life and meaning. Pigeon English is a pleasure to see, with its production values clean and tight, and matched with such exciting performances.
I’m just back to fairy tales. Never normal girl.
Pigeon English is the Gbolahan Obisesan adaptation of the novel of the same name by Stephen Kelman and is currently playing in tandem with Romeo and Juliet at The Ambassadors Theatre. These productions are two of three plays for the sixteen young people who form the 2014 NYT Rep Company. (DNA is the third of the plays and will be performed in November).
The program is run by The National Youth Theatre to find and nurture outstanding young talent in Britain and Pigeon English reflects the company objective of providing quality productions. It equals Romeo and Juliet in the strength of the production team which differs only in its director.
At the helm of Pigeon English is director Anna Niland who has skilfully combined the many elements of this production to create an exciting and vibrant piece of theatre. Cecilia Carey designed both productions, crafting two distinct sets that support the action and cast simply, in abstract and versatile pieces. The Pigeon English set contains many elements familiar from playgrounds, such as climbing frames, swings and half pipe.
Lighting design using the talents of Elliot Griggs and sound design by Dom James and Tommy Antonio are top notch examples of excellence in craft and help provide the young cast, and audiences, with an unforgettable experience.
Of the performances, in particular three of this fine cast shine just a little more brightly than the rest: mother, son and daughter; Mamma, Harri and Lydia.
So strong is Seraphina Beh in her role as Harri, an 11-year-old immigrant from Ghania, that every word and movement gives her character life and meaning. Harri embodies the qualities of hope and life, strengthening the effects of the final scene. Beh is endearing and charismatic, making this role her own.
Equalling this stellar performance is Chinenye Ezeudu as the mother. The truthfulness of Ezeudu’s characterisation shows in all her scenes. Both of these performers inhabit the skins of their characters entirely and are totally believable.
Harri is supported by his sister Lydia, played by Daisy Fairclough who delivers a feisty teenager fighting for acceptance in her new surroundings. Lydia strays into dangerous territory but is uncomfortable in this path and realizes too late that her actions endanger her younger brother. Fairclough shows herself to be strong in both acting and dance.
Felix Mackenzie-Barrow plays the part of Dean, erstwhile best friend of Harri. There are times in his portrayal that the processes of acting are seen and Dean becomes less real to the audience. The same can be said of Joe Pierson in the role of Jordan, the misfit student who is excluded from the school. When these actors hit the moment they are vital and very good but there are a few missed timings that mar the overall quality of their performance.
James Mace and Shalisha James-Davis play minor roles in Pigeon English after having the title roles in Romeo and Juliet. Both actors show their strength and range in their roles in both plays. Here, James-Davis plays a slightly outrageous Auntie Sonia with humour and vulnerability, both as required. Mace plays numerous small parts and handles each with individuality and energy.
Arianna Beadie was delightful in the role of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet and is chillingly real in this play in her role of Maquita, the mean girl on the school scene. In the small role of Julius, partner to Auntie Sonia, Johsua Lyster-Downer presents another character that is finely delineated yet inherently different to his Friar Laurence.
Opening the play with nicely timed skew rhyme that sounds like a contemporary equivalent to the rhyming couplets of Shakespeare is Charlotte Law as ‘the never normal’ girl. After the opening scene this character acts as a narrator with no real part in the through narrative and that’s a shame.
There are, actually, a plethora of scenes that don’t advance the narrative and only muddy the clarity of the real story rather than adding colour. In the case of ‘the never normal girl’ there is an offer of a significant storyline – the girl is a victim of sexual abuse by a family member – but the offer isn’t picked up and just hangs, totally separate from the narrative.
In a trio of malcontents reminiscent of The Wickersham Brothers in Seussical, Kwami Odoom, Michael Kinsey and Shiv Jalota play boys who are menacing in their offhand attitude to the violence with which they operate. Their collective performance is particularly strong and the feeling of malice is palpable in the stalls.
As individuals, Kinsey, in particular, exudes venom whilst Shiv plays his role with a slightly comic touch. Odoom and Fairclough (the sister, Lydia) are paired in scenes dealing with issues of sexual exploration and coercion that are disturbingly believable.
The ensemble is explosive and effective in the large musical scenes with both singing and dance being tight and wonderful to see. These scenes use the entire company to great effect and are a highlight of the production as was the case of similar scenes in Romeo and Juliet. In particular, the Judgement Day song was a joy.
Pigeon English is a pleasure to see, with its production values clean and tight, and matched with such exciting performances.