A Viewing of Flying the Nest in Rehearsal – Review

As Marketing Assistant, although I know an awful lot about HandMade Theatre’s shows and projects, it is rare that I get to catch snippets of the work-in-progress. Last Wednesday, however, I was lucky enough to be invited to sit in on the first 2016 rehearsal for Flying the Nest, and get a taster session of Hatchling College in action.

Flying the Nest is arguably HandMade Theatre’s most successful show to date; with the success of its 2015 debut tour engendering rave reviews and securing HMT the patronage of the brilliant Just So Festival. The 2016 Summer Tour of FTN is set to be even more jam-packed – you can catch the show at the Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) during the Brighton Fringe Festival, and also at a whole host of family-friendly festivals, including Deershed, Alive & VDubbin, and Camper Calling (see Dates and Events for more info).

With so much to look forward to, the team were itching to get back into the rehearsal space, dust off the birdhouse and its inhabitants, and get cracking! As a first-time viewer, I must admit I was not prepared for the sheer energy Flying the Nest entails – this family-friendly show is applauded for its warm and snuggly willow nests, strokeable puppets, and calming atmosphere – yet what immediately struck me was the fantastic humour and physicality emanated in the characters of Hatchling College. Creative Producer and performer Suzy Gunn’s energy so often crackles and sparks in any role she plays, and her ability to move so seamlessly from birding student to bird of paradise to heavily pregnant bird-mother will have children and adults alike spluttering with giggles and rolling in their nests. It is this complementary relationship between excitation and tranquility, frenzy and calm, that makes Flying the Nest so special to watch. In between wonderfully comedic sketch interactions from the players, audience members are instructed on the importance of care in birding, and taught how to properly care for their assigned feathered friend. The show also harbours a particular moment of pathos and existential contemplation (a key element to the magic magic of some of the most famous children’s stories) and supported on both sides by the care and attention of the birders, a momentary tear is quickly dried by laughter!

In true HandMade Theatre style, both the set and puppets exhibit ingenuity, sustainability, and creative innovation. Willow nests seating the audience members have been made in-house, while the bird-house which stands as the hub of activity has been made by friends at START Manchester; if you’re an early bird and you happen to get to a performance early and see the set go up, you’ll be amazed at how the house slots together! Creative Director and Theatre Designer Amy Nicholson’s puppet-work adds a further dimension of wonderfully creative physicality to the performance; willow-woven ducks, ominous umbrella blackbirds, and a huge Kestrel-cum-backpack, operated by performer Gareth Price-Baghurst (see gallery below), provide Flying the Nest with texture and magic – interacting with the puppets is yet a further delight!

A final commendation must be given to the music and lyrical composition of the performance – a key aspect of HandMade’s renowned story-telling style. Flying the Nest is infused with musicality; musician and performer Ben McElroy’s gentle and flawless folk melodies complement themes of nature and the beauty of birdsong, providing the narrative and the physicality of the characters with the charm of a woodland tale. It really is a perfect show for outdoor performance.

If this post has awakened your inner birder, or just enthused you with the feel of summertime theatre, you can find out where Flying the Nest will be touring here. If you are interested in having HandMade Theatre perform at your favourite Summer festival or venue, or would like to get in touch, head to Enquiries and Bookings.

Hope to see you at Hatchling College soon!

Ellen Hart, Marketing Assistant @ HandMade Theatre