Review: The Canary and the Crow, Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

From Middle Child’s work over the past year we can expect their offering at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, The Canary and the Crow, to be a searing play. Middle Child never shy away from the difficult topics and this indictment and exploration of the othering of people of colour in white spaces is no different. It is entirely pertinent in the current social climate to tell these stories. From the opening lines, this play is challenging but never anything less than entertaining.

By the nature of the Roundabout, The Canary and The Crow, has to be in the round but the staging is perfect for the show’s needs. It gives the feel of an arena. We are watching Daniel Ward’s “Bird” in a match against the many pigeonholes he finds himself in. The stage takes on, at different points in the show, the mode of wrestling arena, hyper-theatrical stage and, appropriately for Middle Child’s brand of gig theatre, a concert venue. Paul Smith’s direction rejects any moment of stasis. The play spirals dynamically in its every beat, constantly in motion.

Ward will not be the only actor performing his own work at Fringe but he is one of the few that truly deserves the titles of both writer and lead actor. His performance is filled with heart and sweat; he lights up the Roundabout just as surely as Jessica Addinall’s lighting design does. The show is personal, political, total. He dares us not to listen to him and we are entirely captivated by his words. His writing is lived onstage.

The ensemble around him are just as stunning. Nigel Taylor excels as he stalks around Ward’s story. He provides backbeat and context, the slick, electric undertone to The Bird. Rachel Barnes and Laurie Jameson each cartwheel through a litany of characters. All three actors can be comic, moving and, of course, musical. It would be diminutive to call them Ward’s backing band but it is the aura of a band that they present. They move together, play off each other, a seamless unit with Ward at the centre.

The use of rap music is entirely pertinent, as is the underscoring of classical cellos in the mix. It places The Canary and The Crow in a distinct place and time. The partnership of James Frewer and Prez 96 is incomparable. The score serves the story, there can be no doubt, but it lacks the stagnancy that so often weighs down writing of music for theatre. It is contemporary and thrilling to watch. The audience move like the crowd at Glastonbury; we do not sit in quiet contemplation.

My overwhelming impression of The Canary and The Crow is that it represents something truly important: work about serious topics with a sense of humour and a beating heart. The staging, the performance and the writing makes me truly feel that I am watching the unfolding future of British theatre and it is diverse and invigorating.

The Canary and the Crow is playing the Roundabout at Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Festival website.