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A CurtainUp London London Review
Feathers in the Snow

War is never safe! — Lena
Feathers in the Snow
(Photo: Bronwen Sharp)
Philip Ridley’s play for family audiences looks at storytelling, myths and legends by following a woman’s decision to marry a particular man as the catalyst of the history of the peoples that follows. This is the last production in Southwark Playhouse’s old home before London Bridge station is redeveloped. With a professional cast supplemented by the Southwark Playhouse Young Company, YoCo, who are not only competent but impressive, Ridley’s play has a huge cast of characters. I think I counted nine distinct parts from one actor, Adam Venus, alone.

Lena (Nelly Harker) finds herself wooed by two men: Jared (Craig Vye) who has muscles and Stefan (Adam Venus) who has imagination. She chooses Jared and despite the help of three busybody women neighbours (Matthew Hendrickson, Cerith Flinn and Adam Venus) the pregnancy and birth proves difficult. Worse the child Shylyla (Deeivya Meir) seems depressed and almost catatonic until she is revived by a single feather from the Blazerbird (Adam Venus) a kind of mythological deity with incredible powers of healing and inspiration. When Shylyla looses her feather Jared goes to look for it and captures the prince’s bird after killing the prince. Seeing the country in turmoil, the King’s chief Advisor Kalef (Matthew Hendrickson ) suggests war to unite the country. Shylyla meets a young man TwoTwo (Craig Vye) and together they try to rebuild some of the war torn landscape.

TwoTwo will misunderstand the significance of Blazerbird and eat the miraculous bird. Shylyla and TwoTwo will move away to an island and separately found two opposing races. On their travels they will form the Happy Clappy Band and meet the Sea Witch (Nelly Harker) and weather a tsunami. Two rival countries are founded TwoTwoia and Blazerbirdia.

There is excellent movement from the whole company in this vibrant, physical play with songs with music by Nick Bicât and choreography from Yael Lowenstein. I really enjoyed Adam Venus’ expressive, multiple portrayals, and the Official Historians of the opposing countries are a sheer delight as they humorously interpret events for posterity. Deeivya Meir has boundless energy as the sympathetic Shylyla but the whole cast play at a terrific pace.

While the fantasy will undoubtedly please children, there is enough in this thoughtful history of civilisation to engage adults. The design uses the stairs and balcony level and costumes delineate different characters.

Phil Ridley has written many books for children as well as iconic plays for adults and so can get into the children’s psyche with mystery and mythology. This is a refreshing alternative to the Christmas diet of Pantomime and musicals. The final song has the sentiment that our joy and happiness devolve from each other. I’m carrying my Blazerbird feather with me!

From 14 January 2013 Southwark Playhouse’s new address will be 77 - 85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD midway between the Elephant and Castle and Borough Tube Stations.  

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Feathers in the Snow
Written by Philip Ridley
Directed by David Mercatali

Starring: Cerith Finn, Nelly Harker, Matthew Hendrickson, Deeivya Meir, Adam Venus, Craig Vye
With: Louis Allen, Natalie Argyropoulou, Diegi Benzoni, Harriet Clark, Matthew R Connelly, Ryan McGibbon, Liberty Jackson, Michael Lee-Mckenzie, Nassy Konan Maureen, Comfort Nwabla, Helen Reuben, Kieran Rogers, Maxim Ryder, Clementine Salvi-Offer, Ibrahim Shote, Melissa Tehrani, Douglas Wood
Designed by Simon Kenny
Lighting: Gary Bowman
Composer: Nick Bicât
Musical Director: Joseph Atkins
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 5 January 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th December 2012 performance at the Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard (Corner of Tooley Street & Bermondsey Street) London, SE1 2TF (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)

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