Review: Pigeons by Suhayla El-Bushra at the Royal Court Theatre – Downstairs

Parental guidance: this review contains strong language (and some sexual themes). Much like the play.

Pigeons get a bad press. As a character in the new play by Suhayla El-Bushra says, they excrete all over the place and don’t get out of the way when you approach. As it turns out, he is not talking about the birds and he is a bit of a shit himself. Be careful before you agree with him.

The story plays out in playgrounds, backstreets and semi detached houses in inner city neighbourhoods. A bit grim and a bit normal. The characters – most of them young people – are disaffected and bewildered in equal measure. They clash with parents who are present, or long to argue with parents who are not. They perform fellatio in sheds and split drugs in bus stops. Their disaffection mixes with sexual frustration. They turn on each other, and know where to strike in order to inflict the most damage. Some times literally.

Pigeons - cast list

Pigeons – cast list

The story is unsurprising but the minutiae is startling in it sharpness: intimate interactions, unfinished sentences, tiny gestures shine with truth and tenderness. Some interesting work with the structure of the play allows the audience to work out cause and effect in an unconventional way.

Carrie Cracknell takes advantage of a talented cast to give the production energy and tension without neglecting intimacy and detail. This is a teenage world: it bristles with potential that burns and crashes with the beauty of a supernova.Ryan Sampson as Ashley is unafraid of the rough unpleasant aspects of the character, but layers him with a unashamed hunger for affection that makes him irresistible. Farzana Dua Elahe as Ameena and Nav Sidhu as Amir skillfully reveal the confusion and exhilaration of being caught between two cultures. Paul Bhattacharjee’s Hassan has the faint air of disappointment of a world lost. Angela Terence as Leah projects a touching capacity for love, often unfulfilled or misplaced.

A promising play by Suhayla El-Bushra, and an engaging revealing production.

Pigeons came after Death Tax and before Mint in the Royal Court Weekly Rep season.

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