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The Crowstarver review at Oxford Playhouse Oxford

In recent years, Theatre Alibi, based in Exeter, has been drawn to narratives set during wartime. The theatre already has impressive adaptations of Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear and Michael Frayn’s Spies to its credit, and this take on Dick King-Smith’s modern children’s classic The Crowstarver is another success that proves the past, contrary to the opinion of LP Hartley, is not a foreign country.

Issues of belonging and isolation abound and are sensitively portrayed by the actors. Spider (Malcolm Hamilton) has learning difficulties, and is subjected to bullying. This could so easily be unstable ground, but Nikki Sved’s direction is assured and affecting. Hamilton is outstanding as the unlikely hero of the fields, giving a beautifully nuanced performance. Watching him is a delight: every moment he’s on the stage, he’s thinking, giving the impression of a rich private world away from those around him. The other actors make the most of their assorted roles as narrators, characters and animals. Younger children will be enchanted by Derek Frood’s grizzly tomcat and Cerianne Roberts’ winning Sis (Spider’s puppy). This is not a cuddly world though; there are lessons to be learned about the cruelties of nature, and the animal puppets used for the rabbits and foxes are put to striking use in relating the ambiguities of humans’ relationships to their environment.

This is intelligent, moving theatre that doesn’t shy away from asking big questions. Children will certainly learn something from it, but it will also leave adult audiences with issues to ponder long after the curtains come down.

Production Information

Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, February 28-March 3. Touring March 27-May 5

Dick King-Smith (adapted by Daniel Jamieson)
Nikki Sved
Theatre Alibi
Malcolm Hamilton, Michael Wagg, Jordan Whyte, Derek Frood, Cerianne Roberts
Running Time
1hr 40mins

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