Wednesday 12 December 2012

Feathers In The Snow - Philip Ridley @ Southwark Playhouse

Feathers In The Snow, the latest theatrical production from playwright and author Philip Ridley, is the last to be performed in the vaulting chambers of the Southwark Playhouse before its temporary relocation.  As the play’s action hinges on humanity’s constant need to find a ‘home’, it’s a fitting finale to the theatre as it currently stands.

Ridley’s writing often challenges with its emphasis on the darkest and most disturbing elements of our lives and his writing for children is no different.  Feathers In The Snow is a true family show, with a narrative that questions death and war amongst other ‘adult’ themes but presents them in a playful, childlike manner that is easily accessible.  Ridley takes us on a fantastical, episodic and often chaotic journey that incorporates fairytale tropes: kings and princesses, faraway kingdoms, talking animals, a Sea Witch and (most importantly) a magical bird.  Each episode features exciting and comically self-referential storytelling through song, speech and physical theatre by an energetic ensemble cast, like a series of drama games.  Those playing multiple parts (Cerith Flinn and Adam Venus especially) were a delight to behold, with imaginative portrayals of colourful and exuberant characters.  Through Ridley’s stichomythic dialogue, the plot swiftly snowballs as characters and locations come and go.  The minimal set and basic costumes work in the production’s favour, allowing the audience to use their imaginations to envisage each new wonder.

Yet Feathers In The Snow doesn’t shy away from tough themes, brought to life through the visceral production.  War chants threaten from behind the audience, characters are tortured before our eyes and, frequently, favoured characters meet their demise.  This is not a production that patronises its audience.  Instead, themes are simplified in a way that allows us to question their validity – in Ridley’s hands, war is futile and squabbled over by history.  It provides a lesson for children and adults alike, the parallels with today’s society clear for all to see.  At the close, after such a fantastical journey, the final pop song then brings us back to reality with a jarring bump.

With Feathers In The Snow, Ridley’s fable presents profundity through innocence.  The play teaches us that every decision, however seemingly small, can have far-reaching consequences – a grand notion as seen through the eyes of a child.  Don’t make the wrong decision – this production is not to be missed.


Pictures courtesy of Bronwen Sharp.