'Feathers in the Snow' review or 'Popping candy and a strong shot of gin.'
'Feathers in the Snow', Philip Ridley
Southwark Playhouse, Thursday 13th December 2012
Even Philip Ridley is loosening up – it must be Christmas! 'Feathers in the Snow' certainly has its dark moments; endless wars, deaths and even the rise of the nuclear bomb are smuggled into this family show. But there's also a giddy gloss to everything. It feels like Ridley wrote this feisty piece whilst munching on popping candy and delicately sipping on gin.
It's obvious Ridley had fun writing 'Feathers' and that feeling is infectious. The cast – all plucked from a youth group – looks like they're having a blast. They've been handed quite the pic n mix here: gleefully overblown characters, twisted little nursery rhymes, juvenile and joyful songs and fierce blasts of dialogue.
There are no stock panto dames here but, instead, three cross-dressing, clucking washer women. There are no heroes but boastful, brawny men. And even innocent little Lela – at the heart of our tale – has a vicious temper and a cruel tongue. There's a touch of Roald Dahl to this fantastical piece, anchored by dark and convincing details.
The show is brazenly ambitious, as young Lela and her so-called pals seek out a new Kingdom, following a blazingly destructive war. The narrators of the tale switch restlessly, the tone and colour of the piece jumping about like a hyper kid. Ridley revels in the shakiness of his – of any – narrative.
The cast constantly mingles with the audience, mumbling their dissent, winking and jostling us. There's a loose, slapdash feel to the whole show, which recalls the spirit of panto as well as that of a kids' nativity play. The set is wilfully shoddy. Cast members hold token props, lumbered with representing vast and foreign landscapes. There's a delicious air of improv to the whole piece, as if it might fall apart at any second.
It's a fitting finale for Southwark playhouse; a venue that has never apologised for its limitations but, instead, imaginatively incorporated them. Ridley and this venue (which will be moving location next year) have a lot in common: integrity, intelligence and an absolute refusal to patronise their audience. Long may they both reign.