Stephen Kelman's 2011 Booker nominated novel looks at immigration and violence from this bitterly-sweet innocent perspective, narrated in Harri's broken English, with insightful interludes from a pigeon. Those that have read the book will struggle to imagine it played out on stage but Pigeon English makes for an affecting, arresting National Youth Theatre production.
Playwright Gholahan Obisesan draws out the wit and warmth. The pigeon's philosophising is replaced by spoken word poetry from outsider/onlooker Never Normal Girl and the pacy bustle of the estate is conveyed through slick choreography.
While the adaptation is illuminating, it is the performances that make Pigeon English so thrilling on stage. Seraphina Beh shines as Harri. Her enthusiasm and guilelessness is so instantly natural, you are completely invested in Harri's world and barely notice this little boy is actually a young woman. Daisy Fairclough as teenage sister Lydia is similarly impressive, negotiating the different guises and rules of fitting in.
The boundless, sometimes brutal world of the playground is brought to life with arch accuracy as the supporting cast catch the timbre of childish taunts. Against this backdrop of dares and rituals, the spiralling violence of the thee gang members is chilling. Gang culture on stage can feel like a crass, culturally stereotypical caricature, but Michael Kinsey, Shiv Jalota and Kwami Odoom bring life and depth to the hoodie-clad figures boasting about who they have 'shanked'.
Despite an ending that is both bleak and devastating, the talent and vitality of the creatives and cast still leave you feeling that the future is bright. This future is also vastly more multi-cultural and female-friendly than most other things you'll see on the West End.
|National Youth Theatre's Pigeon English review
|Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London, WC2H 9ND | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
28 Sep 16 – 22 Nov 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
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