Draw Me a Bird

Inspired by the poems of Jacques Prévert
Written and produced by Rachel Barnett for Peut-être Theatre
Chelsea Theatre and Touring
(2011)

Draw Me a Bird production photo

In an era of high-speed Ballardian pile-up loud and proud digital entertainment, Peut-être Theatre, a 'dance theatre for young audiences', dares to beat its own delicate, whimsical little path and oversee the sentimental education of children under seven in the value of European classics.

Last year Lorca (The Bug and The Butterfly), this year the joy of Jacques Prévert in Draw Me a Bird, taken from his poem Pour faire le portrait d'un oiseau (from Paroles), translated by Rachel Barnett (To paint the portrait of a bird) and published in the programme, in which children can also enter a Draw Me A Bird competition, with prizes to be won from the RSPB.

Culture invaded by competition, hmm, it is ever thus, but not in Prévert's charming other world, where daydreams are spun from love of the sublime and a surreal tongue-in-cheek wit. Not a lot happens in fifty minutes, but it happens oh so gently and beautifully - captivated by Paris, its rooftops and music, a bird (pert Maya Politaki in grey ruched swimsuit with small tail) decides not to fly away in winter with the other birds.

It sits on a washing line, swinging with joy, listening to the music wafting by. It freezes rigid in winter, goes cross-eyed with cold, is eventually joined by two other birds, who tweet and sing, fight and play, escape from the ominous miaow of a cat, and watch a girl in red (Isabelle Cressy) hang out her washing, sing, and try to draw them.

Flimsy plot, it is the nostalgic accordion music (composers Yaniv Fridel and Lemez Lovas) and the costumes, above all the costumes, by Amy Jackson (also responsible for the minimalist stage design - two chimney pots, a gramophone, and a big white blow-up duvet of a cloud), which redeem it.

Grey trousers with attached suit tails and braces over white t-shirts. A black tulip-skirted dress with funnel neck - very designer-ish - over black footless tights and glasses turn Igor Urzelai into a crow; in grey hat, white cravat, and grey waistcoat Christian From impersonates an older Russian pigeon.

Feed the birds, share your bread with them: brave young children stretch out their hands, but there is little dynamic and the pace is soporific. Even the invasion of the auditorium by these large perspiring birds intimidates rather than enchants. One child fled to the back.

Slow to take off, but slowly, very slowly, little by little we do fall under the show's gossamer spell. Director Daphna Attias's brave decision to reel the little fishes in doucement, and the total commitment of the hardworking dance performers win us over in the end, and we fly with them.

A touch of Mary Poppins sur les toits de Paris, but much more sophisticated, subtle, maybe too subtle, intellectual, playing to the highest common denominator This piece of dance-music theatre about 'a little bird in a big city' with its songs sung in French (Tournesol) is a must for bilingual children - the lycée in London ought to be on their tour list.

19th - 24th May Chelsea Theatre London; 27th and 28th May Rich Mix London; 31st May Royal and Derngate Northampton; 1st June The Junction Cambridge; 2nd June Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury; 4th June Waterside Arts Centre Manchester; 10th June North Wall Oxford; 12th June Theatre Royal Margate; 14th and 15th June South Hill Park Bracknell; 16th June Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury; 19th June Arts Depot London; 2nd July Birmingham Rep; 3rd July Barnsley Civic.

Reviewer: Vera Liber