The Canary and the Crow review – a vibrant schooling in identity issues

3 / 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars.

Roundabout, Summerhall, Edinburgh
Daniel Ward’s bold autobiographical show for Middle Child Theatre describes life for a working-class black kid at an otherwise posh white grammar school

writer and performer Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow.
A warm, funny host … writer and performer Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow. Photograph: Richard Davenport

Daniel Ward’s bold debut is about a collision of worlds. A warm, funny host to his own story, he recreates his years as a working-class black kid at a posh white grammar school.

The show comes from Middle Child Theatre, a Hull-based company making a name for themselves with their vibrant gig theatre. The playful blend of music, storytelling and conflict swirls dynamically around the venue. Any nuance stems largely from Ward’s performance. He is buoyed then bullied and beaten down at school, seeming too big for his uniform as he crumples on to the floor, exhausted by the effort of having to alter himself to fit into white spaces.

The score by James Frewer and Prez 96 inventively attempts to blend cello into grime, but the cumbersome collision weighs down the quality of both. Nigel Taylor stalks Ward’s story, first as the show’s tireless hype man and then as Ward’s friend – the one Ward guiltily wants to keep separate from his group at school because of how they’ll judge him. Taylor injects the space with rap, but the music is too slow for him; it’s as if his voice is itching for more of a challenge. Laurie Jamieson and Rachel Barnes complete the band on cello and keyboard, careering through each scene with comic performances and beautiful melodies. But they overegg the voices of the posh white schoolboys. The show panders to a white audience here, as if distancing one group from the other.

The Canary and the Crow, with Laurie Jameson on cello.
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The Canary and the Crow, with Laurie Jamieson on cello. Photograph: Richard Davenport

The play stemmed from a provocation at Ward’s drama school about growing up black in white-dominated environments. At the fringe, where there is still discrimination, issues of racism and classism need more space on stage, and The Canary and the Crow, if clunky at times, is an energetic education.