REVIEW: The Canary and The Crow (Arcola Theatre) ★★★★

The Canary and the Crow, playing at the Arcola Theatre in London, is a play about Daniel Ward‘s experiences as a young schoolboy, earning a scholarship to an exclusive grammar school where he was one of only 2 black pupils in his school year.

The play is a multi-layered piece of theatre about the realities of minorities, the constant feeling of “other” that lurks and the expectations of a society that constantly judges.

Daniel Ward, who has written the play and performs the main role, introduces the piece by talking about a time at his drama school when a famous black actor came to speak to the BAME students and questioned them about their treatment as minority students at the school. Ward says that he did not respond at the time but the question prompted him ultimately to write this play.

Ward plays his younger self growing up as the only child of a strong single mother; from playing around on his estate, to gaining his scholarship and on to the reality of the day to day life of moving from one world to another while not really fitting in to either.

Nigel Taylor is Snipe, the older cooler, boy on the estate who Daniel is awed by and slightly afraid of. Snipe is ready to take on the world and make his mark but a zero hours contract stacking shelves at the local supermarket is not providing him with the springboard he was hoping for. After asking Daniel to speak to the families of his school friends for a job opportunity, Snipe decides to take matters into his own hands.

The Canary and the Crow, is an interesting mix of spoken word, rap and classical music. Rachel Barnes plays cello and keyboards as well as providing a haunting vocal melody to parts of the performance, while Nigel Taylor works with a synthesiser, Mac and mic to create beats and raps.

Laurie Jamieson plays a second cello as well as delivering a variety of hilarious supporting characters from the self-important teacher to “big year 9”. The moment where he bounces up to Daniel to utter a greeting in perceived vernacular is milked for all it is worth, initially very funny but becoming more uncomfortable as the moment stretches out.

Daniel Ward has written a really interesting, challenging piece of theatre, that is very funny but also deadly serious. The reality of living between two very different environments gives him a unique perspective on both. His school life is filled with friends who without having to do a great deal, have seemingly unlimited opportunities, while his cohort at home, represented by Snipe, must battle for everything. As Ward bluntly states “ambition without opportunity kills people”.

As The Canary and the Crow ends, Ward adds a postscript as he says many people have asked him about what happened next. His answer is fairly opaque and it will be interesting to see if he goes on to write another play as a follow up.

Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: The Other Richard