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The Canary and the Crow, Arcola Theatre – Review

In a week when both Phillip Schofield and Lawrence Fox have aired views that we aren’t a racist nation because they personally haven’t seen any racism, The Canary and the Crow feels like the perfect rebuttal to their white privileged stupidity. In fact, when writer and performer Daniel Ward declares “your information is biased by the fact you are white" it feels like a line written in direct response to their recent declarations. But we can return to this theme later: for now, let’s talk about the show. 'Gig theatre' seems like the new buzzword; a new genre to…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

Showing that gig theatre doesn’t have to blow your ear drums, The Canary and the Crow is a stunning examination of what it’s like to be black in a very white environment.

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In a week when both Phillip Schofield and Lawrence Fox have aired views that we aren’t a racist nation because they personally haven’t seen any racism, The Canary and the Crow feels like the perfect rebuttal to their white privileged stupidity. In fact, when writer and performer Daniel Ward declares “your information is biased by the fact you are white” it feels like a line written in direct response to their recent declarations. But we can return to this theme later: for now, let’s talk about the show.

‘Gig theatre’ seems like the new buzzword; a new genre to entice a young, vibrant audience into the hallowed halls of theatre. It certainly provides what it promises; a theatre show that feels at times very much like a gig, (albeit a very polite and less sweaty one to my normal gig outings). Even as we are taking our seats Nigel Taylor is MC’ing, whipping the audience up, telling us “we want that energy”, all over a backdrop of some heavy beats.

Crowd suitably worked up, we’re introduced to Ward’s childhood world. It’s probably important to point out at this stage that both Taylor and Ward are black, and the world we are introduced to is very, very white. That’s because Ward won a scholarship and went to a very prestigious school, where he found himself one of only two black boys in his year. The show is, therefore, Ward’s story of trying to fit in, his experiences of being different and the problem of falling between his two worlds, never feeling as if he belongs completely in either.

Ward is a great storyteller, but the show is made all the more entertaining with the able assistance of his three companions. As well as the aforementioned Taylor, the quartet is completed by Rachel Barnes and Laurie Jamieson. And in contrast to Ward and Taylor they are both white. Very white. It’s one of many contrasts that are surely deliberate; to drum home the story’s message. Because whilst Taylor is responsible for the heavy grime elements of the sound, Barnes and Jamieson both play cellos, surely the poshest of all instruments. The three supporting cast ably add music and additional characters to play alongside Ward, offering some of the best moments of the show. It’s Jamieson’s school chant that “we don’t play football, we do rugger” that brings the greatest laugh of the night, his comic timing in fact a major highlight throughout.

Gig theatre always risks losing the story within the gig element. Thankfully that is rarely the case tonight. Sound levels are perfect and nearly every word is crystal clear (even with a technical issue that renders one of the two mics redundant halfway through). And perhaps better, the show is interspersed with moments of quietness, allowing the more poignant elements of the story to be told without needing to fight over the beats of the music.

Without ever feeling preachy, Ward delivers a powerful message that there is still a way to go with race relations, that there is still a major under-representation of BAME in the theatre world, whatever Fox or Schofield may feel. People can argue about whether gig theatre should fall under the theatre moniker, but the last word on that surely belongs to Ward who leaves the stage with one last thought; “This is my art. I dare you to tell me it’s not relevant”.

Written by: Daniel Ward
Directed by: Paul Smith
Music by: Prez 96 & James Frewer
Produced by: Rozzy Knox for Middle Child
Booking link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/the-canary-and-the-crow/
Booking until: 8 February 2020 (then touring nationally)

About Rob Warren

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Rob accidently ended up working in social housing as a temporary thing. That was ten years ago and hasn't got around to leaving just yet as it fits nicely in with his political views of the world. Started out writing music reviews. Spent many a happy night propping up bars in the back rooms of London's dodgiest music venues. Whilst he is still looking out for the next great band, Rob eventually got into theatre as you get to sit down rather than stand. Theatre was also kinder on the hearing, which had never recovered fully from the last Primal Scream gig he attended. Like his work, Rob tends to like his plays a little social leaning, which probably explains why he struggles to find people to go with him half the time.