You attend some children’s shows, and wait nervously as an adult expecting to only be half catered for in the work, yet My Dad’s A Birdman playing at the Young Vic is anything but solely for children. Adapted from the book of the same name by David Almond, My Dad’s A Birdman offers adult audiences a sentimental story with songs about faith and determination in who you are, or could be, as well as thrilling children too.
The story follows the build up to ‘The Great Human Bird Competition’ (a take on the International Bognor Birdman competition) which sees competitors attempting to design enclosures or costumes to catapult themselves off a ramp and fly across the sea. Whoever makes it across, and goes the furthest wins the competition and the £1,000 cash prize, but what is the best way to fly? In the eyes of the Dad, (David Annen) to fly, requires feathers, and ultimately means becoming a bird – The Birdman.
Annen as the Dad is captivating to watch throughout the show, his physicalisation of bird qualities offer hilarious situations and clearly shows he is skilled performer easily manipulating his body and voice to behave like a bird. Whilst his character is somewhat crazed in the imagination that he can fly with such bird obsessions, there is a real sense of parental love and inspiration through his love for his daughter Lizzie (Charlie Sanderson).
As Lizzie looks out for her father as he slowly becomes more bird-like (with eating far too many words to mention!) it seems the care and affection she has for her father is infectious. Sanderson is the glue holding together My Dad’s A Birdman, offering a charming portrayal of a young girl, but showing a tenderness and sensitivity to the plays greater themes of believing to achieving. She performs wondrously, and offers a heartening voice during the songs that accompany the play.
Of the songs there are too few of them, but certain highlights have to include one about making dumplings, where you’d be foolish to not enjoy the Pet Shop Boys influence over them. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys offer a series of charming songs that further the emotive context of the characters and situations. There is a particularly beautiful song about night approaching bringing the voices of Annen and Sanderson together in perfect harmony – I was even grateful for the reprise of it towards the end. With keyboard and percussion played live, the music is brought to life in the space, although it does mean the cast wear microphones throughout the show, which for the size of the studio seems rather amusing.
Giles Cadle’s design in the studio space of the Young Vic is somewhat conventional, until later in the performance where the walls seem to fold away to reveal a wonderful backdrop, and the ramp for the competition falls like the bridge across a moat. I only wish that Cadle’s design could be implemented quicker towards the end, as it seems a shame to return to the original kitchen setting for the last 5 minutes of the show. However, the transformation in such a small space is certainly commendable and keeps the younger audience members entranced.
Where the show falls down is the level of dialogue between creative moments – which seems to drag the pace of the production slightly down. However, with a few more shows under their feet, the cast will easily be able to whizz through offering the children a slightly more engaging performance. I’d say that My Dad’s A Birdman is not for children under the age of 5, due to the level of dialogue and the themes involved. However, there is much fun and amazement from the various bird and flying costumes towards the end to be excited about.
As I mentioned at the start of the review, there is a real sense that the themes and situations that are presented in My Dads A Birdman are a lot maturer than I originally anticipated. It’s a joy to see a complex level of characterisation in a show aimed at under 10-year olds. The show deals with acceptance of who you are, seeing failure as a positive outcome and ultimately the love in each other – if these don’t warm your heart then I might just eat a bunch of worms and be done with it! Whilst not quite the show stopper of the Young Vic’s last christmas show, there is much to be enjoyed in Oliver Mears direction of a wonderful children’s story, and as one boy told me whist leaving “I wish I had wings to fly like him” – well who knows what you might wake up to on your back tomorrow with inspirational work such as this.
My Dad’s A Birdman is playing at the Young Vic until 1st of January 2011. Booking is essential, and can be done via their website here.
Please note that this review is of a preview performance.