Sunday, October 2

The Bone Sparrow – Theatre Peckham

In a country where the Home Office ponders sending asylum seekers to Rwanda for ‘processing’ and Navy battleships intercept people crossing the Channel on a lilo, The Bone Sparrow couldn’t be timelier. It’s ironic that Boris Johnson can fly to Kyiv with ease, while Ukrainians fleeing war, can’t get to the UK for love nor money. The UK’s discourse on migration feels endlessly toxic, but the Brits are far from alone in their unbridled ignorance with regards to this topic.

Pilot Theatre have landed at Theatre Peckham to shine a light into this darkness. Their welcome pitch is a stage adaptation of Zana Fraillon’s book about Subhi, a boy born in an Australian detention centre after his mother escapes genocide in Burma. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Subhi has no concept of the world beyond the barbed wire and cages that constitute his existence. 

Yaamin Chowdhury’s portrayal of Subhi is a masterclass in innocence, desperation and naiveté. It’s heart breaking to behold, but this is an ensemble who all dazzle with authenticity. It’s a grim, but compelling narrative and the rich talent of the cast make it an emotional journey like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. It’s a testament to this production’s virtuosity that they made a grown man blub in a Saturday matinee.

© Robert Day

Aimed at a Young Adult crowd, the show was packed with teens. Evidently, the adolescent massive are better able to handle the sadness than this careworn veteran. It’s also worth mentioning that this was the most diverse audience I’ve seen in a London auditorium. This old white guy was in the minority. That alone is a cause for celebration. Theatre was never meant for middle classes or as a costly pastime for the establishment.

The Bone Sparrow’s set design features sliding cages that clanked with metallic brutality, creating a moving maze of endless incarceration. Before any actors stepped onto the stage, the detention centre visuals packed a political punch.

Within the story of Subhi’s journey to maturity is the fable of The Bone Sparrow, which he learns via Jimmy, a young Aussie girl he meets through the fence that borders his universe. This parable is relayed via puppetry, which was done with such skill, that this too, made me a tad weepy.

The Bone Sparrow isn’t a cheery watch, nor should it be, but it’s provocative, necessary and brilliant theatre.

Playing until 23rd April,

Reviewer: Stewart Who?

Reviewed: 10th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★