Philip Ridley's epic fairy-tale is the last production to be presented in Southwark Playhouse's current venue under the arches of London Bridge Station before it moves to temporary premises at the Elephant and Castle. As a swansong, it is therefore doubly apt.
In recent years, Ridley has enjoyed a rich association with this theatre (where his plays Tender Napalm and Shivered were brilliantly unveiled) and this latest piece – which is aimed at a family audience – is itself partly about the necessity of moving forward in hope to find new homes.
Feathers in the Snow is also a further instance of Ridley's preoccupation with the power – for good and ill – of story-telling in our attempts to make sense of experience. What's new here, though, is the spirit of antic knockabout playfulness – splendidly captured in David Mercatali's production which is performed with terrific animation and mischievous zest by a multi-tasking cast comprised of six highly engaging principals and seventeen members of the Young Company Ensemble.
The proceedings – which spans five hundred years – begin with a fateful decision about a marriage partner and the resulting story of Shylala (Deelvya Meir) a young girl who is frozen in trauma until thawed by the touch of a magic red feather from the Blazerbird. But then the feather floats off and she relapses, prompting her father (Craig Vye – who brings a delightfully self-parodying hunky vigour to a variety of key roles) to go off in quest of the fluffy creature.
The best of intentions backfire, however, leading to a chain-narrative involving war, religious fanaticism, Mutually Assured Destruction and (a bit cloyingly at the end) the optimism of a battered but unbowed group of refugees.
This isn't your usual festive fare and there are stretches in the second half, which explores the mixed consequences of “belief”, that may seem obvious to adults and a bit baffling to children.
But the production is expertly attuned to the resilience in Ridley's writing that offsets the harshness of the subject matter - its spring recurring rhythms and its larky knowingness about narrative tropes, as when Adam Venus's adorable Blazerbird announces that “I'm not going to be around for much longer so make the most of it” or when a farcical succession of Official Historians from two rival nations (all played by the same pair of actors) bicker over several centuries about their approved versions of the “truth”.
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