thing with feathers

Wed 5th – Sat 8th March 2014

reviews

Jack Pulman-Slater

at 08:45 on 6th Mar 2014

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‘Things with Feathers’ is beautiful from start to finish and the cast deserved a much bigger audience on their opening night for what was a really interesting and fresh production. Every aspect of this production had obviously been meticulously selected. The music and lighting have been perfectly matched with the action and content. The music and sound was quite simply cool- I can’t think of a better word to describe it- and created the right moods at the right time, as well as serving to create effective and canny contrasts with the historical periods and events presented. The cast look superb in fantastic costumes, which are a mass of different periods, styles and colours. It could so easily have been over the top, but visually it’s just right.

The cast throw you head first into the dreams of a young boy whose imagination is fuelled by tales of the history of aviation. The cast all play famous aviators, with a historical narrative mapped out by the ‘Gentlemen Scientists’ who provide just the right amount of cheese- even if it is sometimes badly timed and delivered. There is some enchanting mass mime, whispering and movement. Joanna Vyrmeris does an acrobatics performance on an aerial hoop which is just amazing. After we learn about the history of kites, the auditorium is suddenly flooded with light and cast members, who pull on kite strings as they move amongst the audience. Alex Thompson plays the small boy and creates an entirely believable, cliché and cringe-free portrayal of an impressionable young boy and his excitement at the striking and mysterious stories which are physically played out onstage. His movement and expressions are just right, and guide the audience’s reactions and attention to events onstage perfectly.

The occasional voice projection issues were a real disappointment in this production; lines were lost amongst the volume of the music and the sound of the dancers’ feet. Had the whole thing not been so visually rich and cool the cast probably would have got away with it. But this show’s brilliance made the small errors stark. Dramatic potential was lost in what could have been a heart-wrenching argument between the son’s mother and his father on the dangers and arrogance of flying. Hazel Lawrence, playing the Mother, has everything perfect in this scene apart from a convincing voice. It was a real shame to see this part of the show fall flat after the previously well-crafted and ingenious first 30 minutes.

But back to the positives! The appearance of the Wright Brothers is just fab, and the small boy’s dream-flight in his bed is magical. The final scene is touching. Low lighting, broken by a bright bulb-scattered background, accompanied by enchanting music as the cast slowly let balloons float upwards- it could have so easily left you concertinaed into your seat in a massive cringing fit. But unlike a lot of devised pieces on the Cambridge theatre scene, it didn’t. It was just beautiful. This show was the perfect end to my week 7, and it’ll make the perfect start to your week 8.

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Lewis Scott

at 09:13 on 6th Mar 2014

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I was told by a steward that I ought to sit further forward so that I’d see more and I’m glad that I took her advice. ‘thing with feathers’ is a triumph. At first viewing it is a short history of manned flight but it is at the same time much more than that – it is a heartfelt tale of a son and his tragic Icarus of a father, it is a visual treat, it is moving and it is beautiful.

It is testament to the importance of the performance as a whole, rather than many individuals, that the performers are simply listed alongside one another in promotional material rather than having named roles – there is definitely scope to have done so, but that would encourage you to look at individuals rather than the thing as a whole. ‘thing with feathers’ could have been no more than an educational experience had the contents not seemed so contingent to the overall nature of the performance. What is important is not how flight was developed by men but what the dream of flight represents – hope. ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ is a line which sticks in the mind and reminds us that flight is merely a manifestation of human desire to hope for greater things.

The script is very plain in places and feels like it could have been copied straight from Wikipedia, but the ensemble performance lifts the show to a place where it is impossible for the audience to be bored. The acting is outstanding and helps to bring the piece to life– the image of the mother sat at the front of the stage with her eyes closed, hoping and wishing for her husband’s return comes to mind as a particularly powerful moment. Moreover, the effect of the actors’ performance is amplified by the fantastic use of lighting which combines the playfulness and pathos necessary to move the audience – Jon French must be proud of what he has achieved here. The soundtrack was also effective, however it was in places too loud or jumpy and it detracted from the overall effect – first night technical hitches are, however, to be expected and I have no doubt that they can be quickly ironed out.

The physical theatre element of the performance is of course integral to the show and the colourful cast of dancers really brings the stage to life. The costumes are reminiscent of clowns or fairground workers but there is a distinct shabbiness so as to suggest eccentricity and foreshadow the wretched ends many of the pioneers of air travel met. It is one of those things that is very hard to describe and until you see it, it may be difficult to imagine that 10 people pretending to be birds on stage looks as effective as it does and the extent to which it feeds into the overall idea that humans have a natural desire to fly. There is even some audience participation and if it has always been your dream to fly a kite in the ADC theatre, I would definitely recommend that you sit towards the front. There are few moments where the physical theatre element seems forced but the aerial gymnastics section – while impressive – slows the pace of the piece as a whole. The constant movement causes the moments of stillness to stick in the memory and the still images of the fallen father and the crying mother are particularly poignant because of this.

At one point the mother maligns the fact that aeroplanes have been misappropriated from their original purpose of satisfying curiosity and inspiring hope towards the murder and destruction of the wars – something which is highlighted in the very sad section about a French aeronaut who killed himself after realising what his inventions had been used to do. This is a play that works on several layers – there is the tragedy which occurs to the family depicted in the show but there is also the tragedy of the history of aeronautics, the deaths and evils it has brought with it - but above all there is the spectacle of this piece which is wholly enjoyable and captivating.

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