Bringing together four new writers with different voices, Sky or the Bird presents an intriguing production which depicts very real and interesting stories entitled ‘South: Doggy Style: A Fairy Tale of One Tree Hill’, ‘North: TRANSITS’, ‘West: Crosswords’ and ‘East: A HUNDRED DIFFERENT WORLDS’.
Benjamin Askew’s writing imitates, almost duplicates in fact, Shakespeare’s style with rhythm and poetic delight in his piece, ‘South’. He takes a rather base subject matter: a young couple running in to an alley way to conduct ‘romance’ narrated by a nearby tramp, and uses Shakespeare’s artistic manner to make the description and delivery almost beautiful and elegant. Askew seems to be attempting to portray the ‘rougher’ side of London life in a more comely light. One can’t help but be reminded of the poet Dylan Thomas’ description of the town, Swansea, as a ‘lovely, ugly town’. Askew appears to be encouraging us to see the splendour in every part of London, no matter how filthy or unappealing it may first look. Directed by Hannah Kaye, the actors are very clear, with good pace.
Between stories we see projections of London and a London Underground map illustrating where we are moving next, helping us establish our location.
‘North’, by Mike Mersea, has a touching subject. A dying man attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter through a photography project entitled ‘Parting Shots’, during which they endeavour to capture his favourite images all over London. Although the idea is moving, the acting is a little forced and it is therefore harder to feel empathy for the situation.
It is after the interval that this production really comes in to its own. The highlight of the night for me would have to be ‘West’. It is not only written very naturally and intelligently by Lashana Lynch but also powerfully acted by Michael Salami, as Razor, and Ayesha Antoine, as Naomi. Lynch tells the story of a Nigerian man and Caribbean lady who, through flirtatious banter, discover that they were both born in London, yet feel strongly about their cultural heritage. Through the text Lynch raises the empowering thought of what it is to know your own culture and origins within a multi-cultural world: in this case, London. Jane Jeffrey’s direction allows for stillness and makes room for instinctive chemistry. Salami and Antoine engage their audience through comedy but also inspire genuine sympathy.
The final quarter of the evening, ‘East’, written by Rose Lewenstein, looks at three individual stories, told in isolation, all linked by the fact that each narrator has been given an eviction notice and is now in the unfortunate predicament of having to find/being moved to different accommodation. The events and lexicon used to express them are so relatable that one would guess there was an element of verbatim theatre in the writing. One of the stories is told by a projection of a woman with the sound effect of her voice; we never actually see her physical form. Her dialogue describes all of the different and ever-changing events she sees around her and how she remains unchanged. Through Lewenstein’s words we get the feeling that she feels trapped. It is a rather upsetting but provoking idea that her voice is muffled in society and is cleverly reflected through this choice of portrayal.
The overall feel of the production is that, in every story, all of the characters are struggling to get by, cope with loss or adapt to the ever-changing, ever-growing and multicultural world that is London. This is a very astute analysis of parts of London. I would have been interested, however, to see more contrast in the selection of scenes. What about success and wealth in London? What about the nine-to-five rat race? What about the trendy and classy Chelsea or South Kensington? ‘London’ is a mammoth subject matter; there is more that could be touched on. Having said that, the moments they have selected to present to us are largely clear, varied and entertaining. It is a fascinating piece of theatre that its London-based audience can happily empathise with.