It’s a rare occasion when a critic in a theatre feels less like a critic and more akin to a child in a sweet-shop, well at least for this critic. On Friday I stepped into the Royal Court theatre  and discovered a hub of infectious energy; the bar and restaurant area was abuzz, whilst short excerpts of life (disguised as Found Plays) hung from railings and corners like trinkets of humanity. It was enough to enrapture any curious soul.

It was my first exposure to Open Court; the six week festival, which has injected life and words into every crevice of the theatre building. Programmed by over 140 writers, the festival includes: Surprise Theatre, Playwright at Your Table, Found Plays, Open Mic nights and even the opportunity for primary school children to stand in for theatre staff. And that’s not everything.

Part of the festival includes a weekly repertoire of plays, written by playwrights who are new to the Royal Court. A new play is produced every week over six weeks, directed by four directors and performed by an ensemble of actors who are performing during the evening, having spent the day rehearsing for the next show. In rep that evening was Pigeons, a play that jaggedly charts the friendship between two best friends.

Life turns on a knife-edge for teenagers, Amir, (played by Nav Sidhu) and Ashley (Ryan Sampson) in Pigeons.  Written by Suhayla El-Bushra, it leaps back and forth between the moments when things were going “right” and “wrong” for the teenagers. When things are “right”, they spend a night drinking and refueling on Amir’s mother’s cooking the next day. When things go “wrong” they’re divided by girls, family, violence, culture and far-right ideologies. When Amir turns to religion to ground him following the loss of his father,  Ashley is manipulated by Carl, a menacing figure who draws on his vulnerabilities (his own family situation is unstable) and speaks of indigenous people “wallowing in the mire”. We become voyeurs to a friendship where the lines are re-drawn and stretched by external influences.

Sidhu and Sampson bring an immeasurable energy to the production, despite their somewhat exaggerated accents in the opening. Chloe Lamford’s large wooden box aptly opens and turns to mirror each defining chapter in the lives of the teenagers. El-Bushra has chalked up a play that bubbles with warmth and verve, notwithstanding an added tinge of sadness, as a bond shatters unnecessarily.

For more information on the Open Court festival, visit: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/season/open-court-festival

Pigeons – Open Court, Royal Court Theatre

Amardeep Sohi