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Let Us Share Stories and Hot Chocolate-The Bone Sparrow at York Theatre Royal 

The mind can travel further than any human, bird or the wind. Especially a person’s who’s restricted in his physical existence. How can a child deal with the unknown behind his substantial and spiritual limit? And what does it mean to share your fears, secrets and your family’s history with a new friend? Based on Zana Fraillon’s children’s novel from 2016, The Bone Sparrow takes the audience to a world where everything seems hopeless and possible at the same time. With several sub-levels and narratives, The Bone Sparrow entertains different generations and teaches us about the opening awareness of a young human.

Picture credit: York Theatre Royal

In an Australian detention centre, the 12-year-old Subhi (Yaamin Chowdhury) daydreams about the sea, travelling with wings in the sky and drinking hot chocolate. His fantasies seem so far and unreachable, the only way of experiencing them is through his lively imagination. 

The chance of smelling the salty air by the sea and feeling the crisp wind on his skin is very unlikely since Subhi lives behind fences. Also, having a diet mostly consisting of porridge provided by the guards drives Subhi’s hunger for trying an incomprehensible delight- hot chocolate.

Subhi’s mother (Kiran L Dadlani) and rebel sister Queenie (Siobhan Athwal) fled Myanmar from the Rohingya genocide, leaving the father behind. Their everyday lives consist of dealing with humiliations caused by the guards and planning secret missions to let the outside world know about their unfair and poor life circumstances. Subhi learns about cruelty and kindness through the treatment of his friend Eli (Elmi Rashid Elmi) by Beaver (Mackenzie Scott), the aggressive guard who calls each inhabitant by numbers.

To survive the tedious time at the refugee camp, Subhi plays with his imagination when a new friend comes into his life. The little girl Jimmie (Mary Roubos) shares stories of the outside world with Subhi and brings sweets and a book left behind by her late mother. Together they travel in the tails of Oto and Anka, performed by actors with puppet heads. Their friendship is based on their common field- vivid dreams and imaginations. Their relationship escalates from story to story until the explosive riot of the camp.

Yaamin Chowdhury and Mary Roubos in The Bone Sparrow at York Theatre Royal. Photograph: Robert Day
Picture credit: The Guardian

The play uses many metaphors and expressive depictions of nature which are supported by the set design, lighting and suggestive music.

Mirian Nabarro imagined the minimal but effective stage design by placing the actors among mobile cages. As a subjective and physic interpretation of Subhi’s and Jimmie’s dreams, video designer Daniel Denton illustrates the story on a projected screen. The sound designer was Arun Ghosh.

Adapted by S.Shakthidharan and directed by Esther Richardson, the play aims to bring in teenage audiences. Learning from personal experience, the director’s aspiration was rewarding since York Theatre Royal was packed with school groups on the night of the play. The thoughtful implementation of the fable told the audience different layers of the story based on their perception.

In a recent interview, Richardson explained her intentions and ideas about storytelling. ‘We don’t really have big discussions about coming-of-age in our society, it’s just something that happens. It’s fascinating that we don’t discuss and explore that right of passage outside of legal terms because there’s so much there to explore creatively.’ 

The next stages of the Pilot Theatre company’s tour with The Bone Sparrow are going to be: Derby Theatre (16-19 March), Belgrade Theatre in Coventry (22-26 March), Mercury Theatre in Colchester (29 March-2 April) and Theatre Peckham (7-23 April). 

Book tickets here.

Read the full interview with director Esther Richardson here.

Written by Fruzsina Vida