Feathers opens with a glorious explosion, immdiately arresting the audience. The company’s powerful tones fill the theatre, and actors face all directions, taking us all in. Although I knew it was a play for predominantly for children, I was immersed instantly. The story rapidly unfolds and the cast have a colossal presence – their energy reaches out to us in our seats. This soaring energy works wonders on the children watching, as it does on us all. Sometimes, our minds will drift away from the action straight in front of us. This is often nothing to do with the skill of the actor, it can simply be due to having a big ‘to do’ list tapping at our shoulder. However, the actors in this production don’t allow this to happen, especially in Act One.
Craig Vye and Nelly Harker portray the young parents of Shylyla beautifully. Vye is completely sincere when he realises how excited he will be to have daughter. It is a touching moment that tugs at our hearts. The narrative is punctuated exquisitely by the three neighbours throughout the first half. Their triad seems very enjoyable for the actors, as well as for us watching. Gender swapping of this nature is a winner, and these three bring clarity and warmth to their gossiping dialogue. They also act as a buffer to the more serious undertones of the story. The Young Company’s input is electric throughout. The young actors contribute hugely to the dramatic ambience of the piece, although this energy dips slightly in the second half. In saying this, the piece was of such a high voltage in general, a slight drop probably seemed more significant than it actually was. The party scene in the first half stands out, throwing me back to childhood, with bright eyes and new hope.
The direct style of address is delightful: “I am now a new character” is an amusing tone and made all the difference. This honesty works very well to keep the children interested, without patroniing them in a pretentious way that some theatre for young people does with elaborate tricks etc.
Harker’s vocal clarity and skill is apparent through all her characters. She does well never to push, which is almost inevitable in a high- energy and high emotion show. Matthew Hendrickson and Adam Venus’s historians fill the house with hilarity of the highest degree. The moustaches, wigs and ‘adult’ touches are all very skillfully placed in between the action onstage. Cerith Flinn’s expression and versatility is hugely impressive throughout. His Welsh builder especially tickled me, being from Bridgend myself. The physical embodiment of character and context is what gives Flinn the edge here. Deeivya Meir’s beauty and ease on stage are a pleasure to witness. She captures youth and the instinct of a young woman with accuracy and integrity.
The epic story gives us what the text promises, a “Cosmos of Wonder”. The wonderfully positive message of moving forward means that the story doesn’t get dull, and we are kept wanting more to unfold and delight our senses. The spacious and atmospheric set is held perfectly in the Southwark Playhouse. Its rough and ready setting is perfect. The actors reach to the edge of the text and beyond, taking our imaginations with them. A thoroughly magical journey for all involved.
Feathers in the Snow is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 5th January. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.