Mark Ludmon reviews The Canary and the Crow by Daniel Ward now playing at Roundabout Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2019.
The Canary and the Crow
Roundabout, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe
Daniel Ward drew on his own childhood experiences to create Middle Child’s exciting new piece of gig theatre, The Canary and the Crow. With charm and passion, he tells his semi-autobiographical story of a black working-class boy who wins a scholarship that propels him into a posh private school where nearly all the pupils are white. With the recurring fable-like motif of the sweet-singing canary and the screeching crow, he reveals what it is like to be caught between two opposing worlds and not knowing where you belong.
Bouncing around the stage, Ward embodies the boundless energy and bewilderment of an 11-year-old who is slowly worn down by the expectations loaded on him in an environment where they keep reminding him he is “the other”, an ambassador for “the Badlands”. The boy is told that this scholarship is his pathway to “a new start, a new me”, but, looking back, the man questions what happened to his identity after being “whitewashed”. The clash of cultures starts off as funny, with Rachel Barnes and Laurie Jamieson playing the posh white kids and teachers that the boy encounters, but this soon becomes unsettling and a source of outrage.
Ward’s lyrical writing is matched by music by Prez 96 and James Frewer, using hip hop and grime alongside expressive cellos as a score to the tensions and indignation running through the story. Nigel Taylor is excellent not just for his sharp hip-hop rhythms but as teenager Snipes, a symbol of the world that the younger Daniel is leaving behind and an example for what can happen to someone with ambition but no opportunity.
This drama of class and cultural difference may not be saying anything new, and it makes no attempt to find any answers to the tensions that Ward presents, but it is a compelling piece of theatre. Under director Paul Smith and movement director Ryan Harston, it has a driving energy that pulls you along, led by a masterful, intensely personal performance by Ward himself.
Running to 25 August 2019