Even in deepest rural England, it is hardly a match made in heaven. Beth, 40-something, grieving “in the middle of nowhere” for a lost relationship, and recalling wistfully her past as a young musician; and Alfie, a wounded crow. However, what seems an odd pairing makes proves to be theatrical gold. This 2017 production, recorded from a performance at Leintwardine Village Hall in Herefordshire, is perfectly nuanced for such a setting. The play’s speech-rhythms and themes show writer Hattie Naylor’s acute skills with modern sensibilities.
Beth, bewildered and lonely in what had been planned as a rural idyll, finds her life transformed when she takes in a crow with a broken wing. Appearing in her life at just the right time, Alfie’s recovery mirrors Beth’s own healing. The catharsis is gentle and dramatically effective. Dom Coyote’s lovely and varied musical score interweaves with the drama, evoking mood cleverly, while singer-guitarist Imelda Warren-Green performs sensitively throughout as the younger Beth. This contrast allows us to see Beth’s ongoing dialogue with her younger self, and consequently colours the drama; daubing the play with themes of creativity, commitment and vulnerability.
As the Crow Flies is based on a true story, and both the writing and production effectively evoke the bumps in the road which lend verisimilitude. As Beth, Natalia Campbell is assured, and shows myriad shades of feeling with skill and empathy. Elizabeth Freestone’s direction is ingenious: a simple set, creating a plausible living-space-cum-patio for the drama which is only enriched by the characterisation of the mischievous and engaging Alfie. A black-clad Tom Brownlee brings the crow to life, with uncannily accurate representation of the bird’s movements and sounds.
Beth’s phone and text exchanges with her estranged sister capture the siblings’ varied emotional landscape, and the strange evolving relationship with Alfie the crow symbolically conveys her growing acceptance and embracing of life. Naylor’s script – virtually a monologue by Beth – depicts her emotional journey engagingly. Initially considering Alfie to be ugly, she gains new perspective as the play progresses, and begins to appreciate how things might look when seen through the eye of a bird. Eventually she comes to a point where she is newly conscious of the value of life. By the end, even her village is no longer “the middle of nowhere”, but a place offering her a new lease on life with possibilities for friendship and fulfilment.
As the Crow Flies paints a small-scale, but powerful, picture of transformation and renaissance in a rural world which offers acceptance and space – a helpful truth in deepest 2020.
As the Crow Flies can be streamed online here