I’m not gonna pretend like I know a lot about the UK's schooling system, because I don’t. The UK’s relationship with class is already odd to me, and the way we weave it into education from such an early age is surprising enough in and of itself. But its relationship with race? Now that’s something an American can see familiarity in. The Canary and the Crow takes that relationship to task, slamming the racism and classism inherent in the Private School system with the power and energy of a backstreet grime concert.
Emotion in combination with energy and political truth makes it great.
Semi-Autobiographical in nature, the piece follows Daniel Ward, known as Bird in the story, as he is accepted into a Posh Boys school in and around Hull. Here he struggled with the nature of his race within a very racialized class structure, being labeled a “Good one” and being torn between his friends from school and his friends from home. The story is told by an adult looking through a child’s eye, so while the conflicts can be simplistic, that youth and powerlessness makes their ache really echo in a unique manner.
What makes this show truly work is the energy injected into it by its music. Middle Child Theatre are famous for high paced Gig Theatre, but the integration of classical hip hop beats and tempos with string cellos and operatic vocals gives the musical interludes a sense of real desperation, for Bird to either struggle with or against. This composition, from Prez 96 and James Frewer, relies on the talent of the various performers, able to express in physicality as well as in music the severity or silliness of a scene, with particular praise going to Rachel Barnes as a slew of various characters. This tonal overlap is especially prevalent in the show’s final number, a fusion of all the earlier numbers, many of which were initially silly, overlaid by an intense rap. You can feel the struggle in Bird’s voice throughout this, the heartwrench that comes through, and it is Ward’s performance that strings it together. In the hands of a lesser actor, this could have come across simple and flat. But it is a testament to the diversity of his skill that it does not.
The twist in the final third of the show makes it though. Everything the show is about- the duality of Bird and his confusion at where he fits within society comes up. That gives Canary and the Crow its final push to the edge, to the peak of what gig theatre can do. The sheer level of emotion on display here would make the show good; emotion in combination with energy and political truth makes it great.