My Dad's a Birdman

David Almond
Young Vic Maria Theatre
(2010)

My Dad's a Birdman production photo

In a Newcastle kitchen, breakfast is on the table and Lizzie looks like being late for school but it is not her who's still in bed; it's her dad. Little Lizzie has another problem: he seems to think that he's a bird. When she does manage to get him to come downstairs he is still in his pyjamas and he doesn't use his fingers or a spoon to eat his breakfast but tries to peck at his food, hops about, cheeps, coos and crows, tries to catch flies in his mouth and even rushes out into the garden to eat some worms.

Auntie Doreen, who comes round later to check on things, is also very worried about her brother Jack, but it isn't that Lizzie's mother's death and not having a job have driven him off his rocker. It turns out there is some method in his madness for he is going to enter the Great Human Bird Competition and aims to win a thousand pounds for being the first human to fly across the Tyne. He has made himself a fabulous set of wings and he's really studying birds to try to get things right, even eating worms is copying bird diet to get his weight down.

David Annen's Dad is brilliantly birdy and Charlie Anderson a lovely Lizzie; together they capture that very special relationship between dad and daughter and soon she too is getting feathered. Add Tracey Wilkinson's dumpling-diva Aunt Doreen, who clearly loves them both even when she's telling them off, and the play feels firmly rooted in family and given a strong domestic reality. Against this Sam Cox's red-uniformed, tall-fez-wearing Mr Poop, in charge of the Competition, seems a zany figure from a fantasy world. His clipboard appears and disappears and changes size and he makes anything seem possible but there is no waving of magic wands. Despite his encouraging everyone to fly, his story-book eccentricity serves as health-warning not to do this at home!

Lizzie's headmaster Montgomery (Polo) Mint comes round to get her back to school and he gets drawn in too. Paul Bentall makes him the kind of teacher we'd all like to have and there is a wicked little twist involving him and Doreen. Add some pleasant songs written by the Pet Shop Boys, some more mad ideas for how to fly and it all adds up a slightly surreal romp: an hour and a half of fun with a few serious messages to pick up along the way without even noticing. My Dad's a Birdman is lightweight stuff, nicely mounted by director Oliver Mears and designer Giles Cadle, and the cast get it absolutely right.

Ends 1st January 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton