Pigeon English

  • Drama
  • By Stephen Kelman [Adapted by Ghobolahan Obisesan]
  • Directed by Anna Niland
  • A National Youth Theatre production
  • Ambassador’s Theatre, London
  • Until 22nd November 2016
  • Review by Sam Pengelly
  • 1 October 2016
Pigeon English
4.0Reviewer's Rating

Pigeon English fizzes with intensity and promises everything we should expect from a National Youth Theatre production. Alongside Romeo and Juliet and DNA, Pigeon English, adapted from Stephen Kelman’s Man-Booker prize winning 2011 novel, makes up the triumvirate of dramas celebrating the NYT’s 60th anniversary. Anna Niland’s production is emblematic of the way the NYT continues to stake its relevance and its position at the heart of British theatre today.

Kelman’s novel is a tragicomic coming-of-age story about Harri, a ten-year old Ghanaian immigrant in London. Alongside his best friend Dean, Harri sets out to unravel the clouded details behind the stabbing of a local teenager. Kelman’s novel very much reflects the anxious climate surrounding youth violence in the capital.

Pigeon English feels like one of those novels which would prove difficult to adapt to the stage. London playgrounds, parks and tower blocks are explored through the youthful eyes and voice of Harri. However, Niland’s innovative production brings the novel to life. The action unfolds amidst a complex children’s playground structure; each scene stems from some wonderful choreography and musical pieces. We are launched into contemporary London- it is fun, bewildering and dangerous. Fortunately, Ghobolahan Obisesan’s script delicately captures the balance between humour and tragedy in Kelman’s novel.

Over the years, countless stars have emerged from the National Youth Theatre program- in terms of cast, this production heralds some bright future stars. Seraphina Beh is the stand-out performer- her portrayal of the protagonist is a wistful consideration of the tension between youth and maturity, innocence and violence, which hold the narrative together. Keep an eye out for Beh.

A consistently strong supporting cast, Niland’s direction and Obisesan’s script support Beh’s performance. Everything just seems to come into place. We are treated to an ambitious variety show, which incorporates dance, music and singing- all of the parts are summative to a great overall production. Pigeon English is a worthwhile celebration of the National Youth Theatre- an institution which has offered so much, and undoubtedly has so much more to offer in the years to come.

A wonderful and worthwhile celebration of the National Youth Theatre and what it has to offer for many years to come.


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