Northern Flyway

Didcot Cornerstone

I was intrigued from the moment I entered the Cornerstone where Spindrift Productions were about to unleash their show Northern Flyway, and I was not entirely sure of what to expect.

It promised an audio visual exploration of the connection between birds and people. It also delivered a unique and enjoyable evening of extraordinary entertainment.

Drawing on the extensive field recordings of composer and birdsong expert Magnus Robb, the subject of the show was the environment, ecology, folklore, and symbolism of birds and their songs.

This was brought to life by an amalgamation of stunning film excerpts of birds in sky and seascapes patch-worked expertly together with short commentaries about what these feathered marvels meant to various people.

Weaving above, around and inside all of this was an enthralling score that combined voices and traditional instruments with electronic experimentation and mimesis.

Founder members Jenny Sturgeon (on the harmonium) and Inge Thomson (on the accordion, flute and electronics) were joined by Sarah Hayes on the keys and flute, with vocal sculptor and beatbox genius Jason Singh also on electronics. The vocal power and sophistication was superb.

On the visual side, Simon Gane and Ben Everett have created a dazzling and vivid projection sequence and lighting design. The set is very intriguing and effective. In addition to the large projection screen behind the performers, at the front of the stage was a row of smaller screens in the shape of large bird wings, which gave an impressive 3D effect to the experience. They also conjured up a physical suggestion of the clifftops that the birds inhabit.

The stage wear designer Neila Nell created the prefect ensembles for the performers. Subtle, clever and arresting – so very much in keeping with this unusual, fascinating and moving show.

The Cornerstone celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Over the decade this venue has become a valued part of the arts scene, supporting artists and the community. This has been achieved by a great deal of hard work on behalf of the team there. Congratulations.