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NYT 60th Anniversary Season – Pigeon English – Review

National Youth Theatre Pigeon English
National Youth Theatre Pigeon English credit Helen Murray

The world-renowned National Youth Theatre commemorate their 60th Diamond anniversary with an impressive trio of performances from this year’s rep company. This year’s talented group of diverse youths selected to form 2016’s ‘rep’ take on the roles in all three of the cleverly constructed pieces – Romeo and Juliet, DNA and Pigeon English, with the gorgeous Ambassadors Theatre as our setting for all three shows.

Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman’s 2011 Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel, is interpreted masterfully for the stage with rawness, humour and a fantastic relatable quality that keeps us as an audience hooked from the explosive curtain up, to final, harrowing scene. Seraphina Beh is just glorious as Harri, our excitable, naive and trusting protagonist Harri, a 10-year-old boy who has moved to inner city London from Ghana with his sister Lydia, played beautifully by Daisy Fairclough. Set against a heady backdrop of urban life, graffiti, beat-boxing, street slang and lessons learned fast, Harri fancies himself as an amateur detective as he attempts to solve the mystery of a young boy who was brutally murdered on his South London estate, all the way manoeuvering his way through early life lessons and attempting to climb the ranks amongst his peers.

The scaffolding set and simple use of lighting is totally effective in allowing us to imagine the inner city London surroundings for ourself – no fancy staging needed here, which is a real testament to the actors onstage; we are simply so absorbed. The fourth wall is broken as Harri frequently comes forward to invite us into his thought processes, making sense of the sometimes senseless world around him, all the while animated, sparky and humorous in all the right places. It really must be said that it is a credit to Seraphina as an actress (and Head of Costume, Helena Bonner!) that she plays a totally convincing young male, until a joke towards the end of the second half makes things clear, for anyone in the audience who wasn’t sure up until that point! Other stand-out performances come from Chineye Ezeudu for her accurate portrayal as Mamma, Arianna Beadie in her comic turn as the intolerable Maquita and Kwami Odoom as the malicious ringleader X-Fire.

Superb direction from Anna Niland and Sean Hollands mean that NYT’s Pigeon English is as impactful as Stephen Kelman originally wanted it to be, shining a light on inner-city gang warfare with a manner that is both touching, gritty and raw, but flecked with moments of light. Kane Husbands as Movement Director must be given a nod for the fabulous flashes of choreography that punctuated the story arc throughout.

Grab your tickets while you can to enjoy this enlightening interpretation of an important and original story, artfully depicted by a group of truly promising young actors – to quote NYT’s president Lord Waheed Alli, ‘Long live the National Youth Theatre.

5 Star Rating

Review by Louise Czupich

Set against a backdrop of beatboxing, graffiti and skate parks, Stephen Kelman’s 2011 Man Booker prize shortlisted novel has been electrifyingly adapted for the stage for its West End premiere by award-winning playwright Gbolahan Obisesan. Pigeon English is a comic and tragic tale told through the eyes of 10 year old Harri, featuring playful, physical storytelling about inner city life and having to grow up fast on the streets. Directed by Anna Niland.

Pigeon English
Ambassadors Theatre
West Street, London, WC2H 9ND
Mon 26 September 2016 to Tue 22 November 2016

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