“I don’t need you to be a birdman, I just need you to be my dad”
Written by David Almond and with music by the Pet Shop Boys, My Dad’s A Birdman is the Christmas offering at the Young Vic this year, suitable I’d say for children from the age of 5 upwards. Set in a house on Lark Lane somewhere on Tyneside, young girl Lizzie Crow lives with her dad Jackie, who is obsessed with becoming the Human Birdman. Auntie Doreen who lives nearby, tries to keep things in order, cooking dumplings for everyone and making sure Lizzie does her homework, but when The Great Human Bird Competition comes into town, all attention turns to who will be able to fly right across the river Tyne and win the big prize.
For Dad, who has already built himself a nest and a pair of wings, it is the perfect opportunity to get closer to his dream of flying and by the time the competition starts with a great big ramp being constructed in Giles Cadle’s simple design, there’s a brilliant scene with several people trying, and failing, to make it across in all sorts of manners, all introduced by the organising Mr Poop who might just be a little more bonkers than everyone else. Lizzie seizes the chance to get closer to her father but has to deal first with the interferences of Auntie Doreen and headmaster Mr Mint.
So there’s evidently lots for the kids to enjoy to be sure, but there’s a pleasing complexity to the story too which should keep older kids and parents engaged. There’s an aching sadness in this household as Lizzie’s mother has sadly died and so Dad is raising her as a single parent, but with his preoccupation with becoming a Birdman, it is Lizzie who is having to do most of the parenting despite being a schoolgirl. Charlie Sanderson is brilliant as wise-beyond-her-years Lizzie, the moments where she tries to tell her father the important thing is the time they are spending together rather than succeeding at the competition are just heart-rending but she’s so full of light and positive energy that it is impossible not to love her. David Annen’s Dad is a great physical performance as he incorporates all sorts of bird-like movements and behaviour into his character, with perhaps one too many worms eaten for these squeamish eyes but very impressive nonetheless especially as he still manages to suggest the inconsolable grief of a widower in the midst of all the flapping and cawing.
Sam Cox’s Mr Poop is another great highly amusing animal-inspired turn and Tracey Wilkinson’s Auntie Doreen has great fun making dumplings for everyone, especially when to the tune of The Dumpling Song. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s music is nicely judged throughout, throwing in recognisably PSB songs with more subtle ballads like The Night Song which are all played live by MD Phil Bateman and Gregory Pringle.
Packed into a running time of just over an hour, this is a show bursting with wit, invention, silly movement, funny songs and a tender little heart. Focusing on love, the importance of family and allowing people to believe in their dreams as well as all the fun means it engages well at all levels, and additionally on some levels for the older ones in the audience, the way in which grief can be manifested and the journey some people have to take in order to deal with it is sensitively done. Like Lizzie, this story has a beautifully wise head and as such, is a lovely little festive treat for everyone.
Running time: 65 minutes
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 1st January