by Barry Hines adapted by Lawrence Till.
Coliseum Theatre To 25 September 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 15, 25 Sept 2.30pm.
Audio Described 15 Sept.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.
Review: Stoon 8 September 2010.
A Bird in the Hand.
Adam Barlow swaps 1930’s austerity for ill-treatment in ‘68 as he follows his success in the Coliseum’s excellent previous production (The Road To Nab End) with the lead role in this Autumn’s season-opener, even retaining the same onstage name (Billy). But that’s as far as lightning striking twice goes in terms of theatrical manna in this coming of age tale of a put-upon teenager who gains relief, if not release, through adoption of a wild kestrel.
It’s solid enough but rarely triggers real emotions, relying on caricatures to collectively torment schoolboy Billy Casper’s life – bullying older brother, indifferent mother, sadistic games master. A soft comic underbelly couples with the limited characterization, further diluting their effect, and denying us insight into their behaviour. Even the twenty-plus community cast of local schoolchildren hint of rent-a-class as they cough en masse during assembly.
Billy is regularly beaten to a pulp but dusts himself down too readily, maintaining an unwavering defiant tone throughout. But the cost of his stiff upper lip is to hide away the very vulnerability that would draw us to him.
The opening act clocks in at an hour but feels longer as scenes favour the ‘too good to hurry’ Murray Mint formula. Act two picks up the pace and shows what can be achieved during Billy’s exchanges with his sympathetic English teacher, for once allowing the audience to get under the skin of matters.
The absence of a live kestrel is taken for granted, indeed Adam Barlow received lessons in falconry in rehearsals, but we never actually experience his joy when watching this unique bird of prey in flight, nor his empowerment through taming it – it’s more a pet, rather than boy and bird as one. Puppetry possibly could have captured that bond and more varied lighting would have created a contrast between Billy’s two worlds – in their absence we’re left with hearsay as we rely on Billy’s recounted experiences.
The cruel ending merits tears but there’s self-awareness in our failure to shed any – we duly observe but never partake.
Billy Casper: Adam Barlow.
Mr Farthing: Paul Barnhill.
Mr Crossley: Antony Bessick.
Mrs McDowell: Isobel Ford.
Anderson: Christian Foster.
Mr Gryce: Ged McKenna.
Jud Casper: Jake Norton.
Mrs Casper: Meriel Scholfield.
Mr Sugden: Simeon Truby.
McDowell: James Wooldridge.
Director: Kevin Shaw.
Lighting: Thomas Weir.
Sound: Lorna Munden.
Musical Supervisor: Simeon Truby.
Fight director: Renny Krupinski.