The last show at the damp, dark and atmospheric Southwark Playhouse under London Bridge station (before the move to the Elephant and Castle in the New Year) is a fast-moving but surprisingly routine and colourless Brechtian epic by Philip Ridley, whose writing for children normally has infinitely more fizz and sparkle.
Billed as a story of magic and migration, Feathers in the Snow starts out as a grim fairy tale in which Lena chooses one of two men who love her, Jared and Stefan, and gives birth to a girl, Lyla, who can only cheer up when she’s got hold of a magic feather.
She’s so introverted, this girl, that she’s re-christened Shylyla, which makes her sound like an Irish hockey stick. When she warms up, she’s a good sort who doesn’t want to be a pampered princess but to help people out by getting rid of all their weapons.
The rest of the show proves that this just ain’t gonna happen, surprise surprise, and we rush through several dynasties, battles and excursions over land and sea (and hundreds of years), with bombs, apocalypse, a journey on a raft and a tsunami, ending in yet another optimistic new start on a distant island.
Lena’s family tree comes full circle, and there’s a key character called Legless who is thrown overboard to pacify a sea witch, but David Mercatali’s rumbustious production feels like one damned thing after another rather than a connective cycle or saga.
The big company songs have some jaunty music by [Nick Bicât], and the simple sets and costumes of Simon Kenny lend an air of holiday improvisation: the Famous Five do the Mahabharata, perhaps.
Southwark Playhouse’s Young Company ensemble have a high old time, and there is some ballast to the performance supplied by Deeivya Meir as Shylyla, Nelly Harker as Lena and the sea witch, Adam Venus as the spurned suitor in the first scene and Legless (as well as a few official historians), and Craig Vye as Shylyla’s father, who is compelled to trigger an epoch of war as punishment for stealing the king’s “blazerbird,” source of all happiness and feathers.