Arcola Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
What Is It? Hull based theatre company Middle Child’s latest piece of gig theatre written and performed by Daniel Ward, with music by Prez 96 and James Frewer, directed by Paul Smith.
What Is It About? Drawing from Ward’s own experiences, this autobiographical piece follows a young boy’s complicated, racially charged journey through the private education system after gaining a scholarship to a prestigious all boy’s secondary school. Utilising the parable of the canary and the crow, with live performances of both grime and classical music, Ward examines the structural racism that entitles the white middle classes whilst trapping People of Colour into the confines of stereotypes, biased statistics and social stagnation.
How Did It Make Me Feel? Smith states that The Canary and the Crow “has grown in relevance” since the 2019 general election, and that proved absolutely true as I sat in the Arcola Theatre, Prez 96’s sick beats ringing in my ears as Ward lays bear this heart-wrenchingly powerful narrative.
This is an incredibly slick piece of theatre with scenes and encounters being evoked with pinpoint precision by the live music and focused performances of Ward, Nigel Taylor (the real name of Prez 96) and actor-musicians Laurie Jamieson and Rachel Barnes.
The awkwardness of teenage hood coupled with the conflict and pain of existing within two worlds – the worlds of the white elite and the systematically disenfranchised black working class – is powerfully evoked by Ward’s devastating script. Jamieson and Barnes give amusing yet well observed performances as Ward’s private school class mates who emulate the blind privilege and crude ignorance of the white middle classes – evocative of a certain thespian who recently featured on BBC Question Time.
There is a particularly painful moment as Jamieson reconciles with Ward after a violent mugging, and his racial prejudice is revealed within his offerings of an olive branch; even in this moment of masculine tenderness, the racial divide is agonisingly stark.
Yet the heart of this piece lies in the interplay of Ward and Taylor’s characters – two young men with very different abilities despite coming from similar backgrounds. The divergence of their narratives is handled without straying into the territory of melodrama.
The contrasts between Ward and Taylor’s character, Snipes, are clear, but the integrity of Snipes’ narrative is not sacrificed for the sake of dramatic effect; he is not degraded into another ‘black statistic’ but is allowed the grace of emotional complexity and ambition. This is most certainly a show for the world we now find ourselves in. There is an urgency and an immediacy about this piece that will leave you thinking and questioning everything about British society long after you’ve left the theatre. Anything Else? If they haven’t been, the music from this show should definitely be released – there are some gorgeous tracks and movements that deserve being listened to on repeat. Alexandra x The Canary and the Crow is playing at the Arcola Theatre until February 8th 2020. If you like our reviews and want to support this blog feel free to buy any of us a virtual coffee here!