Captain of the Birds at Lansdown Hall

13 – 15 September

By Jon Lewis

Flights of Fancy

Devised jointly by Samuel Rohwer and Adam Fotheringham from the works of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Captain of the Birds is an enchanting solo show set in the Libyan desert where the author crashed whilst trying to break a flying record from Paris to Saigon. Debuting at the Lansdown Hall as part of the Stroud Theatre Festival the audience plays its part in the drama as a mirage of figures conjured up by the over-heated brain of the aviator.

You don’t need high tech tools to create theatre magic. A hand-held torch magnifies a tiny red bi-plane into a shadow on a drape. Rohwer, dressed in flying gear, imitates the sound of the engine. We experience Saint-Exupéry’s fateful journey over the sand dunes. It still comes as a shock when the crash happens and Saint-Exupéry, along with his navigator André, whom we don’t see, are marooned in the burning desert. The only sign of life is a desert fox, created simply using an orange sock with holes to stick fingers through for the ears. The fox’s existence is a sign that they can survive in an inhospitable land.

Rohwer’s hero is dashing and bold, yet boyish and uncertain. Saint-Exupéry misses his wife, bitterly realising that the farewell letter he writes to her will never get delivered, crumpled and forgotten amongst the dunes.

Out of this adversity emerges the narrative of the Little Prince, alone on his asteroid, tending a rose. Rohwer slides into this character, an innocent travelling to other planets where he encounters individuals who are all equally alone. The quirky drawings of these characters are projected onto the screen.

The play is infused with humour. In one scene, Saint-Exupéry offers half a clementine to an audience member tasked with playing the navigator, André. As the hero savours his segments, he’s still left so thirsty in the heat that he wonders if he could lick the juice from the theatregoer’s hands. The guy in the audience plays along willingly and these audience interactions ensure that everyone has a stake in the story’s imaginative flights of fancy.