Review: Canary

SUZANNE BURLTON: ‘a very intriguing play which is well pitched emotionally and managed to address an issue without being overly didactic’.

Ben Allen Hettie MacDonald Mary Whitehouse Ryan Sampson The Cambridge Arts Theatre

Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th June, 7.45pm with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday, £10 to £27

Directed by Hettie MacDonald.

This is one of those plays which could so easily have been a statement. “Gay is good!” it screams like the queer it is. But it was actually very thoughtfully done and was a play about real people rather than simply the ‘issue’ of homosexuality. It follows the lives of three gay men over a span of fifty years as we see both their individual struggles and the way their lives come together.

The play initially looked a little bitty. The scenes are very short and we jump from one relationship and era to another. However, it worked very well as things were gradually revealed and felt more like things gently slotted into place than were suddenly revealed. Memory is important in this play and the interactions between present and past selves were done unobtrusively but with clear links between the respective actors, stopping any confusion.

Mary Whitehouse frames the action with speeches, and my favourite moment of the play was the beginning of the second half where the actors came out of the audience in a glorious gay riot to disrupt her rally. Another particularly good directorial choice was to have Mickey, who is dying of AIDS, lying in bed onstage throughout the second half. This is where the lives have started to come together and so we are constantly reminded of the spectre of his disease hovering over their lives.

Ellie, the mother, does go on some sort of trip, wandering through random scenes with unimpressive wire work. The play would not have suffered too much if this had been cut altogether or replaced with more memories or a bit of ‘troubled wife of a gay man’ spiel.

I was particularly impressed with the pair of Ryan Sampson as the younger Russell and Ben Allen as Mickey. They were rather camped up but this worked in context and they proved able to do poignant moments as well. When they met again one could see the strength of the relationship which had been created.

Jonathan Harvey, the playwright, ought to be proud of himself. This is a very intriguing play which is well pitched emotionally and managed to address an issue without being overly didactic. My companion, who seems to be the exact target audience of this production, felt that it was pleasingly not too glib but still managed to be funny. It was serious when necessary and silly when it could be.