Pigeon English at Bristol Old Vic


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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