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Review Round-up: Young Vic Birdman Takes Flight

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The Young Vic’s annual Christmas show got off to a flying start this week (30 November 2010, previews from 25 November), with chart-topping pop duo Pet Shop Boys providing the music for My Dad’s a Birdman, adapted by children’s author David Almond from his book of the same name.

Written for five- to eight-year-olds, the play centres on a father and daughter duo who’ve been building a nest in preparation for the Great Human Bird Competition. But Auntie Doreen disapproves and is out to bring some order back to No.2 Lark Rise. Will they get a chance to fly, or will sums, dumplings and headmasters get in their way?

David Almond, author of the best-selling books Skellig (which was staged by Trevor Nunn at the Young Vic in 2003) and Kit’s Wilderness, won the Hans Christian Andersen Medal earlier this year and is twice winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book Award.

Continuing in the Young Vic’s Maria studio until 1 January 2011, the cast comprises David Annen (Dad), Paul Bentall (Mr Mint), Sam Cox (Mr Poop) Charlie Sanderson (Lizzie) and Tracey Wilkinson (Aunt Doreen).

Michael Coveney

- "Although it slumps a bit in the middle, and doesn’t match up fully to previous Young Vic Christmas shows for kids, David Almond’s tale of a disgruntled dad and his daughter who enter a flying competition across the Tyne is a pretty good seasonal start for all five year-olds upwards … It’s beautifully staged, too, by Oliver Mears, with a splendid ramp for the take-offs – no hi-tech, over-elaborate flying nonsense as in the ill-fated Spiderman show in New York – even if the music by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys is lazy, nothing special … Mears’ production, beautifully designed by Giles Cadle, has a clutch of winning performances by David Annen as the crow-cawing Geordie dreamer, Charlie Sanderson as his daughter, Paul Bentall as the headmaster, Tracey Wilkinson as the aunt and, especially, Sam Cox as Mr Poop … If only the songs were better.”

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

“David Almond’s touching story of a father and daughter has flown full circle. It began as a play here in 2003, became a children’s book in 2007 and is now back as a Christmas show with a new score by the Pet Shop Boys … If there’s a flaw in Oliver Mears’ engaging production, it’s that the laws of physics never look in any danger of being rewritten. In the book, there’s a double-page illustration by Polly Dunbar that shows Lizzie and her Dad in mid-flight. Here, though the kitchen gives way to a ramp from which a bunch of oddly dressed contestants launch themselves, we have to imagine that kind of release for ourselves. The opening is enchanting, motored by a great performance by Annen that quietly suggests that Dad’s flightiness is the flipside of his depression. But the pace sags in the middle as we wait for the all-important competition. Hang in there. Tennant and Lowe’s music, most of it played live by a more affordable synth duo, is discreet yet distinctive … OK, so I found it a bit slow to get there. But my daughter, who is in the intended five-eight age range, was amused and absorbed throughout.”

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

“It would be hard to conceive of a more pleasant way to kick off the theatrical season-to-be-jolly than with this charming piece … Aside from Almond, the other “names” selling the project are those of the Pet Shop Boys, who have provided the original music. Aside from the quirky Dumpling Song, the rest sounds like so many electronic off-cuts from any of the duo’s work, but no matter … Director Oliver Mears and his enthusiastic five-strong cast convey an infectious sense of fun, while never making light of the underlying themes of loss and responsibility. Lizzie engages her new young friends in the audience as she learns to plot a course somewhere between earthbound and pie in the sky, in a production that has a lovably hand-knitted feel. ‘I don’t need you to be a birdman - I just need you to be my Dad’ is a line that will resonate with all ages.”

Michael Billington

"David Almond's Skellig provided the Young Vic with one of its biggest Christmas hits in 2003. Now Almond is back with a charming, gently optimistic fable about human longings that runs at 70 minutes and is aimed at five to eight-year-olds … It could be suffocatingly whimsical if it were not that Almond grounds the story in reality. Lizzie is presented as a tough Tyneside pragmatist, who keeps her dreamy dad in check. Even Auntie Doreen, who lobs her dumplings around as if they were hand grenades, symbolises the unimaginativeness of the severely practical. But the story is on the side of the high-flying Jackie, whom David Annen invests with a nice touch of avian simulation … There is even a handful of songs by the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, which could afford to be a little perkier. But the overall impression is of a cheering children's story, which endorses Browning's line that ‘a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?’”

Paul Taylor

"Oliver Mears' production beautifully captures the barmy charm and moving emotional undercurrents of this David Almond tale, which carries a heartwarming message about the power of belief and familial bonds. Charlie Sanderson is a delight as Lizzie, matter-of-factly shouldering too much responsibility and radiating an infectious love for her father. Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have provided the score, which ranges from a ditty on dumpling-making to an enchanting song about the approach of evening during which, as they waft their patchwork DIY plumage, Annen and Sanderson reveal all the warmth of the father-daughter intimacy that's revived when she joins his madcap escapade … Even if Dad and Lizzie rely on ‘wings and faith’ rather than contraptions, don't expect false uplift here … Don't try any of this at home, though – except metaphorically.”


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