All Hail The Pigeon King!

Picture this:

I’m all dressed up for a night at the theatre with my mother.  We’ve just had a nice dinner, and we’ve been sneaking a peek at the red carpet events of the Governor General’s Awards (which happen be taking place at the NAC that night).  It’s a fancy night out and we get all settled in to the Babs Asper theatre, awaiting the start of the show and…



“Pigeons” was the first word of the play, and before the house lights even dimmed we discovered paper pigeons in our programs.  It was a fantastic – and silly – way to start the show.

Every year, I see all 8 English Theatre shows at the NAC, so I really appreciate when there are shows that are a little more unconventional.  Overall, the play was essentially a collage of the events and emotions surrounding the story of Arlan Galbraith (Gil Garratt) and his fraudulent company: Pigeon King International.  The play was presented as a collective creation, a uniquely Canadian style of theatre, and I feel that was an excellent choice for presenting this strange story.  All of the actors played multiple roles – and played multiple instruments for the musical interludes – and each scene was a little different than the others.  Although there was one unifying story line, the play was essentially made up of smaller stories and songs.  And for a story that revolves around fraud, and lies, and trust, it makes sense to present a series of episodic events in which every character has a different and unique opinion about what is happening.  This also served as a way to show that this was not just about Arlan Galbraith and his corrupt Pigeon empire; this play was also about his victims and what they had to endure.

img_6896Based on what I had heard before going to this play, I knew that it was a comedy, that it was based on a true story, and that it was about pigeons. It’s a wild Ponzi scheme and I recommend reading up on it if you’re curious. Since this play was branded as a comedy, I truly expected it to just get silly.  And it was silly, but there are also some serious issues at the heart of this story that are still relevant today, and creative team behind this play handled them with care.  In the “Director’s Notes” portion of the program, Severn Thompson notes the this play is about “hope, fraud, uncertain economies, justice, forgiveness, despair and love.” The events of the story took place not all that long ago, and the key themes of the play are still relevant today.  Fraud is still an issue, and of course we are living in uncertain economic times, but I also found Garratt’s portrayal of Galbraith was very reminiscent of Trump. So yes, these are issues we can laugh at under the right circumstances, but I really appreciated that the creative team behind this production still treated the more serious issues with respect.

img_6897It was not just the story that received such careful attention.  Stylistically, this play was probably one of my favourites this season.  There were pigeons EVERYWHERE.  The entire set was made to look like a farm with barn board, chicken wire, and even the drum kit was made up of upturned buckets and a milk crate for the drummer to sit on.  But in all of the barn board elements of the set were cut outs of pigeons.  Throughout the play, wooden pigeon silhouettes were mounted onto the chicken wire.  There was even a large bard board pigeon cut-out in the lobby, and paper pigeons at the coat check! And, of course, we had pigeons in our programs.  I knew what those were for the moment I saw the dotted folding lines.  I kept my paper pigeon in my lap for the whole show, waiting for the moment to present itself.  For the final scene of the play, the audience members were asked to fold their paper pigeons and throw them at the stage.  The air was filled with pigeon-shaped paper planes soaring (but mostly just plummeting) through the theatre.

I really appreciated the overall attention to detail in this piece, and I loved the fact that it was a unique and quirky piece of Canadian theatre.  Overall, this has been a fairly strong theatre season and there is still one more show to go.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!  But no matter what the NAC has in store for audience members, I think I have had my fill of pigeons for this theatre season.

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