Theatre review: Pigeon English
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: Pigeon English at Underbelly (Venue 61), reviewed by Kelly Apter
With recent statistics suggesting there are almost 1,000 victims of knife crime in London each month, tales of young lives being tragically cut short are not hard to come by. But news items only give us a name, an age and maybe a photograph. How they lived, who they loved and what they hoped for is harder to convey.
This engaging, dynamic and ultimately poignant show takes us to the heart of the action – putting a face and name to the numbers in those statistics, and adding a fully fledged life to those newspaper articles.
Harri is a young boy from Ghana, in his first year at a south London secondary school. He negotiates this strange new landscape that he, his mother and older sister find themselves in with a youthful innocence and charm/
Each day he encounters new characters: the terrifying DFC gang, keen to recruit him; dodgy thief Terry Takeaway and his dog Asbo; and the tragically damaged Never Normal Girl.
We don’t meet her, but Harri’s growing affection for fellow school pupil Poppy embodies his sense of hope for the future. His unfettered exuberance when he finally kisses her – portrayed through some impressive acrobatic skills – only serves to make the inevitable denouement all the more heartbreaking.
Adapted from Stephen Kelman’s novel of the same name, Pigeon English deals with weighty topics – youth violence, immigration, childhood sexual abuse – but there’s enough spark in the performers (from Bristol Old Vic Young Company and National Youth Theatre) to keep this production light on its toes, and the occasional spot of music and rapping gives the cast another way to comment on the action.
These are young actors, still learning their craft. David C Johnson, who turns in a remarkable performance as Harri, has yet to properly train, only due to take up a place at Rada this September. But if this is what he can deliver now, then this is a youth with a very bright future indeed.
Until 25 August.
More info: Pigeon English is at Underbelly
Originally published in The Scotsman