thing with feathers is beautiful; hallucinatory; fickle. Curiously enough the production bears absolutely no resemblance to its official blurb, but this is perfectly in line with the general tone of the play. Over the course of an hour, music swells in and out like wingbeats. Strangely costumed creatures peck and chirp on stage in a series of vignettes, loosely narrated, about the history of human flight. A bed becomes a biplane; skilful lighting from Jon French draws the stage up from earth to a sunset above the clouds. thing with feathers is really all about ambience - about atmosphere and the joy of movement.

Unfortunately, sound and motion don't translate well into the script. The characters come off like awkward improv artists, bizarrely fluctuating between history lessons, poetry, and half-hearted music-hall comedy. This seems to be due to a pervasive lack of artistic conviction. The staging and the physical theatre really are good enough to stand alone, but for some reason director Connie Harper has fallen back on the rickety supports of stilted language and exhausted tropes. The besetting sins of Cambridge theatre are all here: artsy inaudibility, poorly mimed paparazzi crowds, and actors charging around in the audience. Sure, some of it's charmingly executed - such as kites being flown from the stage across the seats - but one wonders what's behind the ADC's mysterious determination this term to give its audiences whiplash.

Another downbeat of the wings: this production really needs to sort out its stereotypes. Of course the dashing heroic father is killed off; of course it's the mother, rather self-consciously played, who derails a comic moment with maudlin complaints about how husbands never listen. The appearance of the only female aeronaut mentioned is preceded by a five minute-long rant about how the ladies, bless them, are always so jealous of each others' looks. It's a shame to see the startling originality of thing with feathers shot back down to earth by such lazy characterisations.

The piece is saved, repeatedly, by the skill and beauty of the visual and auditory spectacle. Joanna Vymeris's hoop and ribbon acrobatics and an eloquent dance solo by Tara Thean are particularly worth seeing. Danni White and Georgia Kandunias have done excellent work on the costumes, which are somehow mechanical and bird-like, and suit each period to which the play refers. Music is perfectly chosen and put together, dizzying the audience with murmured beats and airy melodies - sometimes drowning out the actors, but with this script, that's nothing to complain about.

All in all it makes for a bewildering and pleasant way to spend an hour. Perhaps its a little bird-brained, but then, what else would you expect from a thing with feathers?

things with feathers runs at the ADC until Saturday 8 March.

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