New heights

New heights

27 March 2018

The Search for a Black-browed Albatross soars, says Louisa Doyle

The Backpack Ensemble seriously pulled it out of the bag. Tent poles, torches, sheets, umbrellas – the lot. Like Mary Poppins, and with just as much childlike charm. Building their set from the ground up in front of the audience, they announce their intentions with humble transparency. Sam becomes Charlie as she shuffles into a bright yellow mac, and sets out to tick off the last thing on her father’s life list – to catch sight of the black-browed albatross.

The cast is wonderfully self aware, both as insightful actors and ordinary characters. It isn’t ambitious, but superbly executed. They support the audience as well as they do one other, framing a character in focus with simple tableaus and a bio of their guilty pleasures and little secrets. It’s melodious like a nature programme, signposting the play so you never get lost. Even when Charlie does.

The theme of loss weaves through the play and is elegantly explored through shadow projections of Charlie’s childhood. The silhouettes represent the memories of her father, empty but present in Charlie’s mind almost two years after he passed away. The cast aren’t afraid to lay bare that loss is experienced by them as actors and characters alike. It’s the letting go of a mother’s hand at the school gates, but also the dreaded transition of a student after their studies. This honesty welcomes the NSDF audience into their experience.

That said, I wouldn’t say I loved the audience interaction. I can’t click, so making it rain was a bit of a slog. But when I imagined all the kids that (hopefully) at another time could be sat in the audience, the actors’ request made a lot more sense. The show appeals to audiences young and old, so with that in mind, I was certainly happier to get involved.  

The play’s resolution is joyous: “I found this bird so I could find you. Now I’ll fly away.” Charlie beats the migration and even retrieves an albatross from a tangled plastic bag, allowing her to make her way home. This woodland adventure makes the mundane into the magical. A total breath of fresh air.

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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca