Review: The Canary and the Crow (Summerhall Roundabout, Edinburgh)
Will there ever be a better match of company and venue than gig theatre impresarios Middle Child with Paines Plough's Roundabout? The Hull-based company, returning for another show in the circular Summerhall space, certainly knows how to cook up a storm: from the moment the audience walks in the cast is getting chants going, encouraging punters to throw shapes, egging us into call-and-repeats.
But what is most striking about The Canary and the Crow, created in conjunction with writer and performer Daniel Ward, is that it feels like the best use of the gig theatre form the company has ever displayed. Ward's childhood is that of two contrasting experiences: that of being a young black teenager, going to a blazer-sporting, rugby-playing private school. ("Why are there no girls?" a young Ward demands). This comes across in the music – two antiquated cellos coalescing with hip-hop beats. Different styles smashed together: at one point performer Nigel Taylor freestyles over the top of The Magic Flute.
At the centre of it all is Ward, an amiable, conflicted yet unflinching presence. His story is a dextrous, well-crafted one, commenting not only on the innate prejudices of private schools, but also on the obligations of young black men to behave themselves or exacerbate the stereotypes they are defined by. As he grows, his scruffy uniform slowly starts to smarten – buttons are done up, ties are adjusted, collars are flattened. The man assimilates and his annunciation shifts. Seven years of private schooling occur in front of us on stage and what begins as a lark becomes a performance.
Where the piece falls down, perhaps, is that though Ward's argument is so rich and wrought, many of the characters on display are caricatures, wearing their motives and prejudices on their sleeves. His mother, sometimes overbearing but always driven, feels like a missed opportunity to tease out the nuances of the debate.
That doesn't stop this being an absolute banger of a Fringe piece with some solid laughs provided throughout – Middle Child continuing to prove itself as a company worth listening to, and Ward a powerful voice for contemporary theatre-making.